Peculiar People

Jan de Hartog, Author
Jan de Hartog, Author Pantheon Books $23 (321p) ISBN 978-0-679-41636-4
Reviewed on: 11/02/1992
Release date: 11/01/1992
Library Binding - 509 pages - 978-1-56054-670-2
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Adroit plotting and deft characterizations, hallmarks of veteran author de Hartog's fiction, are again present in this final volume of his trilogy about Quaker life (after Peaceable Kingdom and The Lamb's War ). A captivating tale set primarily in the American West of the 1830s, it concerns devout, individualistic members of the Religious Society of Friends (the self-styled ``Peculiar People'') who struggle to put their ideals into practice as they confront divisive issues of human injustice. As they respond to the plights of slaves and American Indians--even as these issues divide their church--de Hartog's characters travel on private spiritual odysseys, grappling with doubts and profound personal weaknesses. At the center of the novel is Mordecai Monk, an affluent English chocolate manufacturer who becomes a seductively eloquent and controversial evangelist, then an abnegating pilgrim witnessing among the dislocated Shawnee, next an uncertain shaman, and ultimately a Quaker martyr. Throughout, he struggles with personal demons and overpowering lust. Indiana schoolteacher Lydia Best, stripped of her position and disgraced for aiding escaped slaves, accompanies Monk among the Shawnee as they are herded west by the U.S. Cavalry. Former Philadelphians Obadiah and Charity Woodhouse undergo similar transformations as they pursue their faith. De Hartog skillfully evokes the Quaker community both regionally and internationally. This is masterful storytelling, conducted in a lively prose full of colorful details and fascinating insights into the subtleties of faith, leadership and sacrifice. (Nov.)
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