By Christy Distler. Avodah Books, 2020. 444 pages. $14.99/paperback; $3.99/eBook.
“Entwined, the strands are stronger. That reminded me of us, thee and me and Jesus together.”
When was the last time you read a novel that was rooted in our faith, leaving key terms unapologetically undefined (save for a one-page glossary in the front) and familiar faith traditions woven seamlessly into the storyline? Although I admit that I initially checked the accuracy of the vocabulary and practices vividly described in the first chapters, it wasn’t long before I settled into my trust of Christy Distler’s well-researched, captivating depiction of the Pennsylvania Quakers and the Lenape in 1756.
Distler has captured period vocabulary and scene descriptions of not only rural settings but also Philadelphia during the era of the French and Indian War. I felt my own faith strengthened as I shared the Scriptures read by the characters as they made decisions and prayed along with them as they visited the meetinghouse. More than 265 years later, I am certain that contemporary Quaker readers will identify with the experiences of Isaac Lukens, of mixed Lenape and French ancestry; Elisabeth Alden, a birthright English Quaker; and find many of the aspects of A Cord of Three Strands, as told from their alternating perspectives, relevant to their own lives. The book would delight lovers of U.S. history as well.
I found Distler’s talent for writing about Isaac and Elisabeth’s internal struggles especially compelling. Though they were far from perfect people, I came to care about Isaac and Elisabeth and worried for them as they dealt with a variety of realistic issues: parenthood, cultural clashes, slavery, extravagance, betrayal, redemption, and romance.
I have a mixed-race relative myself, and found the variety of opinions and reactions around Isaac’s ethnicity of specific relevance in the context of our contemporary society. As an older reader, I found the size of the print and the length of the story to be perfect for my tired eyes. As a Quaker and writer of my own first novel, I found an immediate appreciation for Distler, who attended Horsham (Pa.) Meeting as a teenager; chose two young adult Friends as main characters; and is a distant descendant of Lukens’s devout eighteenth-century Quakers, who were among the first to settle the area of Pennsylvania where the novel is set.
Barbara Luetke is a member of Salmon Bay Meeting in Seattle, Wash., and a regular attender at Madison Temple Church of God in Christ and North Seattle Friends Church. She is author of The Kendal Sparrow: A Novel of Elizabeth Fletcher and serves as a recording clerk for many Quaker organizations.