Monday, June 9, 2014

Mainstream Fiction That Is Christian

I heard Mitali Perkins speak at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing and immediately identified with her cross-cultural perspective. (You can see more about what she said at the conference on my previous ICFW post.) Perkins was born in India and grew up in a Hindu family, but she is outspoken about now being a follower of Jesus. Having chosen to write for mainstream publishers, she does an amazing job of introducing matters of faith without saying anything that could be accused of being preachy.

As the author of a YA book about children caught in war (The Wooden Ox), I was eager to see how Mitali Perkins treats the subject in her book Bamboo People. In a word—brilliantly. She uses two point-of-view characters, one Burmese and the other from the rebellious Karenni tribe, to show the experiences that have formed their points-of-view and to expose their common humanity. (Notes at the end give an overview of the history and political situation.) Sixteen-year-old Chiko, whose doctor father is in prison for opposing the government, applies to become a teacher only to find the qualifying test is a ruse to grab boys and force them into the army. Tu Reh is angry and eager to fight since soldiers have burned his home and forced his Karenni family to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand. Each of these boy soldiers is seeking to find himself as a responsible adult in his society. Both sides have been conditioned to hate the other and yet when they meet, each learns a different story of the “enemy”.

American missionary Adoniram Judson arrived in British India in the early nineteenth century only to find it closed to him by the outbreak of the War of 1812. He went instead to Burma where he evangelized the Karenni people who turned en masse to Christianity. Christian values now ingrained in the tribal culture make it easy for Perkins to include spiritual elements and how God wants us to treat our enemies without seeming to preach to her secular audience. “Doesn’t God command us to defend all who are weak,” an old man asks the village council, “not just those who speak our Karenni language?” (p. 242)

I think of those in my own culture right now who are so quick to turn to guns to solve their problems. An old man in my state was recently convicted of murdering two teens who broke into his house. (He moved his car to look like he wasn’t home and waited in the basement with a shotgun, shooting the unarmed vandals multiple times, not just wounding them.) Is fighting and killing what it means to be a man? The author’s viewpoint is clearly anti-war and the action turns on whether Tu Reh will kill his wounded enemy Chiko or allow him to be left in the jungle to die. Or is there an alternative that will honor Tu Reh's cultural heritage?

I look forward to reading more books by this thoughtful and creative writer. They aren’t part of the genre called “Christian fiction”, but they are certainly fiction that is Christian.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. (She visited Burma briefly as a child.) Her fiction reflects her faith, her passion for storytelling that stretches the mind and soul, and the cultures she has lived in. Learn more at .


  1. Interesting distinction LeAnne, between "Christian fiction" and fiction that is Christian. When I first encountered writers like Lloyd C. Douglas, and Taylor Caldwell, the "Christian fiction" label wasn't around, but the Christian stories those authors told left a deep impression on me. Nice to see faith portrayed in mainstream fiction.

    1. Very true, Alice. I think mainstream fiction that shows godly values reaches a broader audience than fiction that is labeled "inspirational."

  2. Marvelous to read about this. Mitali's skill in revealing God's character without preaching is to be applauded. We have ministered both to the Myanmar and the Karen peoples and were humbled at some of the stories they shared. Who published this novel, LeAnne?

  3. Thanks for introducing us to Mitali, Leanne. I missed your previous post. This is wonderful.

  4. Does sound like a fascinating and thought provoking novel.

  5. So good to hear of a YA author in the mainstream market like this. Thanks for introducing Mitali and her book to us, LeAnne.

  6. LeAnne, great post! I'd love to see a list of international fiction books with Christian stories and themes that are available from mainstream publishers. They can be harder to find if they're not marketed as Christian books.