His Sins by Sylvia Behnish
Alexander and Lena are young emigrants from Scotland whose dream of starting fresh lives in America were laid to rest with Alexander’s father, a miner who met an untimely end. After the funeral, the couple find themselves without the funds required to move overseas, and their increasing discontentment leads to a deep enmity between them. Terrified by a future cut short by the same fate as his father, Alexander lashes out at his family. It is into this unloving environment that Elsa and her brothers are born, curious and intelligent children who quickly pick up on their parents’ unhappiness and begin to internalize it. Eventually, the young family moves to Canada, where Alexander is freed from a life spent digging down through darkness and delivered instead into another sort of servitude. Life in North America, it turns out, does not guarantee a person wealth or happiness. As Elsa ages, her story picks up where her parents’ leaves off, and we begin to observe the obstacles that a young girl, bruised by a bad family history, must overcome if she wishes to undo all her years of emotional abuse and pain. Otherwise, Elsa has little chance for a fairy tale ending as her parents.
His Sins is a serious work of fiction with a powerful message. Through well-told scenes and dialogue, Behnish opens up a Pandora’s box of anger, regret, and depression that engulfs her characters and nearly drown them. But there is also that last, vital ingredient, the one that remained at the bottom of the box after the others had left: hope. Elsa threatens to repeat her parents’ mistakes after marrying a man who is as bitter and angry as her father, but instead raises her own daughter to be confident and independent and uncompromising. While Elsa’s childhood was traumatic and best forgotten, Behnish shows how all experiences, whether positive hurtful, shape a person as she grows into adulthood. Even the deepest wounds can begin to heal if one is strong, patient, and maintains an open heart.
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