There is no God in Downton Abbey.

Long Way Home
Author: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Pages: 387

“There is no God in Downton Abbey.” This thought from a review of the popular TV series stayed with me. The writer was pointing out God’s seeming absence in the show.

God’s presence is something I can count on in Christian fiction. Though this genre may not be esteemed by those with more sophisticated tastes, I appreciate a worldview that includes God. I hope my life proclaims that God is real. As incomprehensible as the world may be, nothing explains it better than his existence.

Not having read much Christian fiction for a number of years, I wanted to check out recent titles to see if I could enjoy it again. Somewhat randomly I came across Long Way Home by Lynn Austin, whom I had never read before. I like historical fiction, especially that which covers World War II, which is the setting for this novel.

This closely follows the lives of two people living in different times and places but whose stories ultimately converge. The setting is before the war and after it. Each narrative is told in alternating chapters by the two female heroines: one Jewish, starting in Berlin, the other a gentile living stateside.

Through Gisela readers witness the growing persecution of Jews and the growing terror that forced many of them to flee only to find themselves having to do it again as the plague of Nazism spread. The story depicts the heartbreak of unrealized hope. Imagine sailing towards expected refuge in Cuba, only to be turned away at the end with no country providing sanctuary, not even the US. I imagine this part has a basis in fact.

Peggy is the underdog that I want to succeed. She is shy, living with an alcoholic father after losing her mother, poor and bullied. Jimmy, her childhood friend who “always saw hope in places where there wasn’t any” (5), returns from the war depressed and barely speaking. Peggy endeavors to find out what happened in hope of helping him to recover.

Seeing the war through Jimmy’s eyes, especially the camps that were liberated at the end of the war is sobering. There is the shock of seeing the condition of survivors and beginning to understand their unimaginable suffering. Sadly, some were too far gone to live much beyond the liberation.

Fortunately, none of it is too graphic, so don’t be deterred from giving this a try. Some beautiful relationships sprout and eventually blossom from this bleak setting.

The loss of faith is explored through Jimmy’s life. In general, the book touches on post-traumatic stress disorder. Anyone interested in the subject might appreciate how it’s handled here. I like how the author addresses these and other difficult issues. In talking to Jimmy about suffering, a friend, fellow veteran, now a chaplain offers this solace in view of the inexplicable: “The only light we’ll ever have in this dark world comes from God. If we turn away from Him, we’re left with darkness and despair” (354).

This is what I appreciate about Christian fiction. It can offer hope because God is in the picture. It’s not the closed system, if it be the case, that is Downton Abbey. I’m not putting down the show. I’m just glad that in places like this story the cross of Christ is an ever present reality.

I hope to continue my exploration of recent Christian fiction. It’s not that I won’t read popular fiction. I like stories even when God is not consciously included. I can glean from them when the author is able to convey something of the realities in life.

I do not hesitate to recommend this book and author as I enjoyed my time with these characters.

Michael Dalton