I read a historical set on Ellis Island not that long ago. It wasn't just the accurate detail that made the story come alive. This book kept me seeing and smelling New Jersey and New York of 1910—the aromas of garlic, basil and olive oil wafting from the tenements in the Italian section. The clinging odor of cabbage and potatoes seeping out of the Irish part of town. Then there was the chime of expensive clocks and the ping of fine china in the brownstone mansions of Manhatton Island. And down on Ellis Island, I could hear the moans of ship’s horns, and feel the flap of seagulls around the red-brick buildings.
Is it because I am a first-generation immigrant, that I love the images of Ellis Island in various books and movies? The visions of these other immigrants wading by the thousands off barges onto that first bit of North American soul is always fascinating. The beauty and texture of the various cultures coming together always grabs my attention. But it's not just in historical settings that I savor the various dialects. In contempory stories, the flavor of where people's folks came from still lingers.
I like the way John Updike put it in his novel “The Beauty of the Lilies”. Now don’t rush out to the library and order this—ahem—classic. It’s not a novel for the average modern-day taste. In fact it bored me to tears. But once in a while he said something brilliant, like this when he described the music of language, "Operatic ribbons of Italian, rapid stabs of Yiddish, the mushy thrusts of Polish".
Oh can’t you just hear the rhythm? Now why can’t I come up with something that wonderful when I write? But more importantly, why have we forgotten that it was the immigrants from other countries who made North America great?
A foamy tide brought those immigrants to these shores by ship and deposited them at Ellis Island a century ago. Yet today in our Christian Fiction we see so few stories written about other countries. Thank the Lord this is changing. This past week we’ve seen the announcement of four of our International writers nominated for the Christy--Jeannette Windle for her novel "Unveiled" set in Afghanistan, Tom Davis's novel "Scared" set in Africa, Lisa Harris's "Blood Ransom" also set in Africa, and Harry Krause's novel "The Six-Litre Club" with a character from Africa. Bravo.
Congratulations to all of them. If only they could split the award 4 ways.
But maybe even better, the tide of Christian Fiction may truly be changing. I hope so.
This posting was written by Christine Lindsay. You can catch up with what I'm writing these days on my blog site, www.christinelindsay.com