This one time, I got addicted to ancestory.com. It would get dark and I would begin to think, I’m tired. Then I would realise it was 2 in the morning. I had to find sleep before 9 to 5 of my workday! Devotion by Hannah Kent retriggered my addiction.
On my first read of Devotion, I thought – lovely writing but just too much devotion and sentimentality for my liking. Reading quickly through a second time to write a review (anything to keep me from ancestory.com) for Pocket Bookclub, I warmed to Devotion.
Hanne, in the small village in Prussia, is not like the other girls. She is uncomfortable with her growing curves, she hears the wind and the trees sing, and she does not want to marry. She does not have friends. Until Thea arrives.
As an Old Lutheran in Prussia in the 1830s, Hanne is expected to conform, to the devotion of the religion, the unquestioned patriarchy, the expectations of her parents, and her community. She is expected to be ordinary, and she wants to be ordinary, to fit in, but Hanne is extraordinary, she hears the world singing. She will fall in love with a girl.
Her community is expected to conform too. Her congregation are German Lutherans in the Kingdom of Prussia refusing to join the Church of the Prussian Union. King Frederick William III expected the Protestant churches to homogenise. The liturgical Agenda did not sit well with all Lutherans and those who dissented became known as the Old Lutherans. Pastors who defied the King were suspended or imprisoned. The dissenting congregation of Hanne’s village were met with violence and imprisonment, their church was boarded up. They worship in secret in the forest. Unable to conform, their hope is to escape, to immigrate for freedom of religion. But the king won’t even allow that.
Kent seamlessly weaves historical figures such as Pastor Kavel and the efforts to immigrate into Hanne’s story. She is on the periphery, not caught up in the machinations and politics, impacted by them. Devoted, both to God and to Thea.
My family are also German Lutherans from Prussia. My ancestor arrived in Queensland on the La Rochelle in 1865. So many passengers died on the trip that the ship was quarantined for several weeks and became subject to a board of Inquiry. Back in Prussia, the persecution of Old Lutherans eased with the king’s death in 1840. I don’t know if Gustav Gossow from Groß Wittenberg (now Polish Szydłowo) was an Old Lutheran but it takes every bit of willpower not to go down the research tunnel again. I need my sleep. (Hanne’s brother’s name was Gotlob, the same as my great, great, great.)
Anyhow, back to Hanne! She has no words to describe her love for Thea, but of course, it is love that is devoted, deep, and forbidden in her church and community. The congregation hides in the forest to pray and Hanne understands there are ‘parts of us best kept hidden’. When passage to South Australia is secured for the community, Thea’s family is unsure about the journey. Hanne and Thea build their own church in the forest and with some intuitive magic in Hanne’s hearing, they pray to be with each other always.
Thea was as a chink of light in a curtain. When I put my eye to her, the world beyond blazed.Hannah Kent, Devotion
Thea’s family has a secret too. Her mother Anna-Maria is a Wend and in the way of the world, some of the persecuted old Lutherans mistrust Anna-Maria and indeed she owns a forbidden book.
I had never heard of a Wend. European history is so confusing with its crusades and migrations. Wends (or Sorbs) are Slavic and their names often end in ow. Like Gossow. Did you see me? I just went down a rabbit hole. Do I have Wendish blood? The town of Groß Wittenberg was built ‘on the witch hIll’ at a time when German Town Law was being used to colonise what they considered underpopulated areas. Where the Wends/Sorbs already lived.
Back to the book. Obsession or devotion?
As though she was not the moon and the ocean, tidal with longing ever turned to her.Hannah Kent, Devotion
Hanne does find a type of freedom with the community’s migration to South Australia and Devotion is a memorable love story. Whether I find the book too sentimental or not, I have to admit the language is immersive.
Each morning while it was yet dark, the birds filled the air with singing so that the sun, when it rose brought light as symponthy. The birds were everywhere. Hosts of raucous angels. Black bodied, yellow topped messengers of shreiking delight. soot streaked coral masters, feather fat kookaburras, suddenly, alarmingly prothestising to the dawn.Hannah Kent, Devotion
My family colonised the lands of the Jarowair people of the Wakka Wakka nation on the Darling Downs. There is a road named after us. There are German names throughout the district. Wendish names. Some Jarowair names. The witch hill back in Europe, I wonder, was the hill a pagan site? Now a small Polish township, once Prussian, speaking German. Meanwhile, back here on the Darling Downs the Gummingurru ceremonial site was taken by the European ‘settler’ in 1871 and returned in 2000.
I was told my grandfather could make his own wurst and swore in German. I have a soft spot for the type of German feast we had at this book club event. Cold meat, pickles, cheese, rye bread. And Shandy for our cunttail!
The Pocket Bookclub raged against a book of literary cocktails that only included quotes from men. We embarked on a cunttail project, inventing a cunttail for every book we read in 2022. We made a literary cunttail book!
Literary Cunttails 2022 is hand drawn by Miriama and includes every recipe. Get a free copy.