After her surgical patient dies, 18-year-old physician-in-training Astrid Bjorklund’s thoughts of going to Chicago for more medical training are tinged with misgiving. Maybe she’s not cut out to be a doctor after all. The reappearance of the handsome but enigmatic Joshua Landsverk complicates things. So does the appeal by a traveling missionary for more doctors needed in Africa. In A Measure of Mercy, author Lauraine Snelling takes readers back to the fictional community of immigrant Norwegians, Blessing, North Dakota. In this first book of the Home to Blessing series, we follow Astrid and her mother Ingeborg through the summer of 1903 to February of 1904.
Intricately drawn characters, a rich portrayal of ethnic, community, and family life, and a delving into the practice of medicine in the early 1900s are this book’s stand-out features.
Snelling fans who have read previous books about Blessing will welcome new installments into the lives of such families as the Bjorklunds, Knutsons, and Hjelmsons. For those new to the community, there’s a family tree at the front of the book. Though that's invaluable in helping sort out who’s who, it is still easy to get confused by all the sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, as Snelling dives right into the narrative without a lot of explanation.
Astrid and her mother Ingeborg tell most of the story, with snippets told from the viewpoint of Joshua (all in third person). The main characters are all complex, interesting and presented with warts-and-all honesty.
The setting is rich with a host of interesting secondary characters and the challenges of pioneer life. I especially enjoyed the description of all the Norwegian foods, the lively community gatherings, the family-centered Christmas celebration, and the butchering bee (which took me back to my youth and our farm in a German Mennonite community in Saskatchewan).
Astrid’s life as a medical intern in Chicago, with its old-fashioned hospital equipment and the constant demands of study, call, lack of sleep, and homesickness seemed equally realistic.
The story is anchored in faith and religious practice. The talented, earnest Astrid struggles throughout the story to discern what is God’s will for her future. Meanwhile at home, her mother grapples with letting her daughter go, missing her and worrying about her. Prayer, reassurance, and guidance from the Bible and pastor’s messages aid both of them. Joshua has his own issues as Pastor Solberg’s talks on forgiveness goad him to complete some unfinished business at home.
This rich, gentle story ends with a big loose end, setting us up to await Book 2 in the series. No Distance Too Far is due to be released in April 2010.