HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: But Not Forsaken
Author: Helen Good Brenneman
Cover Illustrator: Jotham Yoder
Publisher: Christian Light Publications, republished in 1983
Related website: www.clp.org (publisher
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 13 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Brenneman, Helen Good. But Not Forsaken (originally published in 1954 by Herald Press; republished in 1983 by Christian Light Publications Inc., P. O. Box 1212, Harrisonburg, VA 22803). Maria Penner is a young Russian Mennonite wife and mother. She, her husband Hans, their ten-year-old son Hansie, eight-year-old daughter Rosie, and two-and-a-half-year-old baby Lenie, live as refugees at Krauter, a city in the Soviet-controlled sector of eastern Germany following World War II. Their ancestors had left Holland and Germany in the eighteenth century at the invitation of Russian Empress Catherine the Great to settle in the Ukraine. However, after the Communists came to power, the Mennonites, who had maintained their German language and way of life, became the objects of persecution. When the Germans invaded during World War II, they forced many of the Mennonites to go with them on their retreat back into Poland and Germany. Then after the war, the Russians began deporting the Mennonites back to exile in the Soviet Union.
The Penners’ only hope is to escape into free western Germany. Unfortunately baby Lenie becomes seriously ill, so Hans has to take her to the nearest hospital at Kornrade, 35 kilometers away. While he is gone, Russian soldiers come and take their neighbor and fellow Mennonite Tante Anni Friesen, so Maria and the two children have to flee in the middle of the night. They walk to Kornade but are told that Hans has returned to Krauter. Meanwhile, Hans is told by another neighbor, Frau Schmidt, that Tante Anni, Marie, and the children are gone. All she knows is that the Communists came and took Anni, so Hans assumes that his family was also verschleppt (literally, “dragged away,” as forced labor into the northern lands of Siberia). Without knowing what has happened to the other, Hans, whose belief in God has been all but destroyed by the horrors of war, and Maria, who still clings to the faith of their fathers, both decide to head west to freedom. What happens to baby Lenie? Will Maria and the children make it safely across the border? What will happen to Hans? Will he ever recover his faith and find his family?
This is truly a gripping and moving story. Author Helen Good Brenneman served with the Mennonite Central Committee refugee camp at Gronau, Germany, in 1947 and 1948, so she had opportunity to hear first-hand about the experiences of many refugees. She says that the narrative of But Not Forsaken is “fiction—yet not fiction, for it is based upon many real-life tales related to us by refugee friends. Maria Penner’s border crossing, for instance, is almost exactly as a refugee woman recalled her experience, except that her account was even more amazing.” One doesn’t have to be a Mennonite or to accept everything the Mennonites believe in order to appreciate their willingness to stand up for their convictions and their trust in God to provide for their needs. The homeschool world is familiar with two “CLP” organizations—Christian Liberty Press and Christian Light Publications. Though we have used the curriculum of neither, I have purchased sundry supplies from both. However, I picked this book up from a bookstore when we were visiting in Pennsylvania last year. I’m glad that I did.