History Disguised, a book review

Ruth’s Redemption

I love history, especially when I have no idea that I’m learning!

Ruth’s Redemption is an engaging love story, wrapped in an accurate account of the slow, painful collapse of slavery in America in the 1830’s. By including real life characters like Nat Turner and literal geography such as Dismal Swamp, Marlene Banks pulls her readers into an unwitting tour of history.

Bo Peace knew that God had called him to work tirelessly but peacefully toward abolition. A freed black man, he returned frequently to the slave market to purchase the freedom of as many slaves as he could, one by one. On a summer morning, the Holy Spirit insisted that he purchase Ruth, despite the unreasonably high price that was demanded.

Ruth was hardened, hateful and barely grateful at first. She had been raped repeatedly in forced service as a breeding slave. She longed for death. To Ruth, freedom was a forbidden dream, one that could only be fought for and taken by force. She could not grasp Bo’s gift of physical freedom. Consequently, she refused to believe in Bo’s God, whom he insisted offered freedom from her anger, hurt and hopelessness.

Ruth’s Redemption is moderately paced, leading the reader through Bo and Ruth’s daily lives on their farm, their developing romance and Ruth’s budding faith. While the ascent toward the story’s climax seems a bit slow, it is very entertaining. Banks leads the reader through a gently rolling plot with a series of smaller, dramatic events. A few characters seem to have only peripheral rolls and melt, unnoticed into the fabric of the story.

I admire Banks’ unashamed inclusion and application of the Christian faith. She delivers clear, biblical theology addressing sin, guilt, forgiveness and salvation. This is accomplished through realistic dialogue, preventing the reader from feeling as if he has just sat through a lengthy sermon.

Ruth’s Redemption is a worthy read, but not my favorite of Banks’ novels. The blending of historical events and the fictional romantic plot line is not done as seamlessly as in her other novels. She concludes the book with a predictable happily-ever-after ending for Bo and Ruth, but a detached insert of sorts, wrapping up the narrative of Nat Turner’s slave revolt.

Freedom is the over-arching theme of this book. Freedom from slavery; freedom from sin, and how neither can be achieved or sustained without the God of the Bible.

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Book Review of Son of a Preacherman

There’s no better way to learn and retain history than through a well researched, historical novel. When I finally managed to put down Son of a Preacherman, I knew more about Oklahoma during the 1920s than I had learned in school.

I grew up in Oklahoma, studied state history and still never heard about the Greenwood District, Black Wall Street or the Tulsa race riot. A little research revealed that much of the true story was intentionally overlooked by history books until 1996 when the state legislature commissioned a report to establish the historical record.

Marlene Banks’ book, Son of a Preacherman, is remarkably accurate. The main characters, Billy Ray Maitthias and and Benny Freeman are fictitious, but the circumstances that surround them and the events they participate in are very real.

Banks seems to draw the very real into her fiction as much as she adds some drama to the history. She doesn’t shy away from the racial brutality of the time. Banks includes nearly every conceivable conflict, giving the reader insight into how homosexuality was viewed, how women were treated and how religion played both a positive and negative role in society.

Every element of a good story is included in Son of a Preacherman. Romance steadily blooms between Benny and Billy Ray. No chapter is dominated by cheesy dialogue or passionate scenes. However, following the two lovers through the turmoil provides an excellent balance to the book’s constant suspense.

After the tension of the book, I did find the epilogue almost too conclusive. Banks wraps each character’s situation and seals the book with an implied, “happily ever after.” Given that there is a sequel to Son of a Preacherman, I would have liked to be left with a not-too-steep cliffhanger.