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Book Review: The Postcard by Beverly Lewis

Copyright: 1999 by Beverly Lewis.
Genre: Christian fiction.

In these days when our major news stories continuously tell of the conflicts between Jews, Christians, and Muslims, Americans tend to think of the Amish in Pennsylvania and Ohio as being peaceful, plain, and extremely religious people who have no conflicts. In reality, there are problems within the Amish community, much the same as in any other denomination of Christianity. The Postcard highlights sympathy healings, also know as powwow doctoring or faith healing. Powwow doctoring is an Amish version of folk medicine. Some old order Amish hold more trust in these people who they believe have been given special powers than they do for medical doctors. Others see them as agents of satan. The disagreement over these witch doctors caused a divide in the Amish community, creating a break-off group called the Beachy Amish. Rachel Yoder and her husband Jacob were part of this second group while Rachel’s parents remained Amish.

The Postcard tells several stories that overlap. It is a combination of a love story, a bit of mystery and in interesting description of life in the Amish Mennonite town of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. Rachel Yoder is a young widow, who witnessed her husband and son killed in a buggy/car accident. The experience left Rachel with hysterical blindness. Two years later she and her 6-year-old daughter Annie, live with her parents in a bed & breakfast the parents run. Philip Bradley, a New York journalist comes to stay at the B&B, to write a story about Amish life. At first he was welcomed by Susanna (Rachel’s overprotective mother.) Then Philip finds an postcard in a drawer of the old roll-top desk in his room. It is written in Pennsylvania Dutch so Philip asked Susanna about it. She looked at the first line, which said “dead Adele” and her demeanor shifted to cold, after which she told him to keep the post card, she didn’t want anything to do with it.

Philip was enthralled with the secrets the post card held and set about to investigate its origins. He discovered it had been written by a Gabe Esh, to an Englisher woman who he obviously loved, by the name of Adele Herr. He found out that Gabe died at a young age, before he and Adele were ever able to marry. It didn’t take him long to figure out that some of the Amish in the community did not want to discuss Gabriel, who had been shunned prior to his death. It seemed that there was some disagreement between Rachel and her parents over this very matter.

There is a secret that circulates among some of the Amish, that being the disagreement over powwow doctors. These people, who don’t have any kind of medical training, appear to have some sort of power or sixth sense. A powwow doctor may be called when someone is injured or ill, when a vein of water needs to be located for a well, or for other supernatural things. Those who ascribed to this belief in powwow doctors thought that the “doctor” who had the power had received a gift from God. They sited certain bible passages that they used to back up their beliefs. Whoever carries the power in the community chooses at some point, someone to take over his or her duties as a healer and passes their skills on to them. It is supposed to be an honor to be chosen. Naturally, they try to choose someone who appears to already have some leanings in that direction, although it is often political. However, during the time of this novel, there was an increasing number of Amish people who felt that powwow doctoring was a form of witchcraft, specifically forbidden by the bible as the doings of satan. Rachel Yoder, and Gab Esh before her were two of these people. Rachel’s parents believe she has the power and wish for her to utilize it, while Rachel is horrified by this sin that is so against the teachings of Jesus.

The Postcard is the first of a two volume story, culminating with The Crossroad. I look forward to reading The Crossroad, which promises to bring Rachel and Philip together and reveal the secrets of this particular Amish community.

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