American Priestess: The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem

Jane Fletcher Geniesse, Author . Doubleday/Talese $26 (378p) ISBN 978-0-385-51926-7

Anna Øglende Spafford’s life was a classic 19th-century epic, related perceptively by Geniesse. Born in Norway in 1842, she came to the United States as a child, buried her father on the Minnesota prairie, then married evangelical lawyer Horatio Spafford in Chicago. Somewhat unhinged by the Great Chicago Fire, bankruptcy and a shipwreck that drowned four of their daughters, the couple founded a Protestant sect called the Saints; hounded by creditors, they absconded to Jerusalem in 1881 with a handful of followers to await the Second Coming. With Horatio’s death, Anna tightened her grip on her “American Colony” cult, abolished marriage and reshuffled couples into chaste “affinities.” Then she turned her sect into a business empire, including a profitable hotel, farms, bakeries and Jerusalem’s first telephone company, all staffed by Swedish converts. Whew! “There are neither villains nor saints in this story,” notes Geniesse (Passionate Nomad ), setting her sprightly account against the era’s Christian Zionism and millennial hysterias. Geniesse paints her charismatic heroine as part ur-feminist survivor, part totalitarian despot. (June 17)

Reviewed on: 03/31/2008
Release date: 06/01/2008
Open Ebook - 289 pages - 978-0-385-52668-5
Paperback - 378 pages - 978-0-307-27772-5
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