Title: His Sombre Rivals
Author: Edward Payson Roe
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Graham and Hilland, two young men meet at a German university and become fast friends. Unbeknownst to either of them, they fall in love with the same woman in America, Grace. Instead of letting this come between them all, they act like adults and Graham does not allow his heart to dictate his life.
The American civil war is breaking out and Graham makes it his job to look after Hilland for Grace’s sake. Sadly, the vicissitudes of war take their toll. Grace loses her faith in God and Graham does all he can to support her.
Grace has a complete breakdown and the only way that Graham can take care of her is to marry her with her father’s permission. She eventually recovers, they are married in spirit as well as in name and little girl comes of their union.
Sadly, once again Grace and Graham are faced with another death, but this time, instead of turning to despair and hopelessness, they are turned back to God and His love for them in the face of an apparently uncaring universe.
This could turn into a long review replete with personal anecdotes for my own personal recollections. So proceed with that knowledge in mind.
This book was recommended to me by my former highschool teacher and I have to say, I am thankful she did. This book is the best book I’ve read this year and it will be very hard to read a book that is more solid, more enjoyable, more well done than this. The above synopsis pretty much tells the entire book. The “Sombre Rivals” of the title are not other men, but simply Death & Grief.
The main things that drew me when reading this book was the manly friendship of Graham and Hilland and then the Redemptive power of God to draw His children back to Him even when they’ve turned from Him.
The type of selfless, manly love displayed between Graham and Hilland is something that most men today desperately need but lack. Worldwide abuse of strength has led to a worldwide breakdown in just what it means to be a man. Couple that with the American ideal of Rugged Individualism and you have men who are looked down upon while believing they must be Islands of Self-Sufficency. Men need other men to recharge and reaffirm their Manliness. But it isn’t happening today for so many reasons.
So to read about this was like drinking a tall cool glass of lemonade after having been in the desert for years without water.
The dynamics between Graham, Hilland and Grace.
Graham and Hilland showed a strength of character and friendship when dealing with Grace that just floored me. Hilland never knows that Graham was desperately in love and Graham does not allow his thwarted love to poison his friendship with Hilland or with Grace. He does not turn petty and while he retreats for a bit, he comes back and becomes an even firmer friend to Hilland than before. Putting his life in danger to save Hilland so that Grace won’t have to fight the spectres of Death & Grief.
When I was in college there was a girl that I really liked, a lot. But it was obvious that she liked another guy and he happened to be a good friend of mine. Sadly, I didn’t react quite as well as Graham. It didn’t tear our friendship apart, but it put a strain on it that allowed for an eventual breakdown of friendship. Losing a friend, even if you are choosing that, is a bad thing. So I can understand Graham’s feelings and to see him NOT allow that to influence him was just superb!
I am a devout Christian and that is why I am delving into the following. It means a lot to me.
The attempt to answer why God allows Evil is called Theodicy. This is something I have struggled with ever since my little sister got leukemia when I was 10 or 11. That was the first time I realized that there were different kinds of suffering and some of them had nothing to do with our behaviors or action. I’ve actually just reserved a book at my local library that is only about this issue, thanks to Joel and his great Review.
Roe doesn’t go deeply into this, but he does slightly in regards to Redemption. If God is truly omniscient and we are broken, fallen creatures [including our minds and intellects] then it follows that we will not always understand the means and the ways He uses to draw us back to Him.
Graham had never had faith in God. He was a product of a german university and was an avowed materialist. Grace had a general faith from her mother, but nothing that had taken root in her heart. When Hilland died, Grace lost her faith as it had no basis. It takes the faith of a former slave and the death of Grace and Graham’s first daughter to bring them to God and to accept His intervention in their lives.
That can turn people off quicker than you can say boo. “Why would a good God allow…”is a question asked by the atheist, the agnostic and the devout. In my stronger moments I can answer that with full assurance of God’s goodness AND His greatness. In my weaker moments I scream it at God and am very much like Job in my questioning. I found Roe’s answer to be simple yet enlightening and enough for a person who is honestly asking. No one who is screaming that question at God in pain will be able to hear an answer, yet. Everything in it’s right time and place. But the answer is there.
To summarize this section, Roe does an excellent job of showing why God allows the Sombre Rivals of Grief & Death to stalk humanity.
This book is the best I’ve read this year. It is not something I’d want to read when I want action. However, when I want something contemplative, deep and sold, the ideas put forth are perfect.
Quite possibly the Best Book I’ll Read in 2015.