Happy New Year, friends! I’m so excited to keep reading and chatting with you in this space as we start 2021.
I have a few confessions as we start The Voice of Melody by Kaylene Powell. First, I have not read Moby Dick, Hermon Melville’s 1851 novel inspired by the true story of the whale attack and sinking of the Essex and Owen Chase’s survival. I recently read in another book that many of us have classics on our to-read list just to be able to say we have read them, and I think I might be one of those people! Rest assured that if you are like me and haven’t gotten Moby Dick read yet, you don’t need to in order to enjoy The Voice of Melody.
Second confession: I honestly knew nothing about whaling or the whale industry. In a minute I will introduce the author, Kaylene, and let her share a bit of background for us. But I’m loving learning about this time in history from the book!
Peggy feels a bit like a cross-cultural sister, don’t you think? She is brave and strong in the midst of lonely circumstances, but she longs for a community of other women who understand her. She deals with childbirth in less-than-ideal conditions, faces off with a variety of threats to protect her little family, and holds tight to the hope of God’s provision for her in the ups and downs of daily life.
I love this line from chapter three: “[God’s] hands are upon me, upon Annie. He is guiding us in the storm, and He will see us safely through it. We are not alone.”
The promise of God’s hand on us through the storms can carry us through the joys and losses of cross-cultural life. I’m so grateful for that hope!
Now I want you to meet Kaylene! She has lived and worked overseas, and now shares a state with me, a fun fact I found out recently! Here’s some super helpful background info for us as we continue to work our way through The Voice of Melody.
This book is based on as many facts as I could find about the Chase family. At the few points where I knowingly made changes to those facts for plot continuity, you can read about them in the notes at the end. What you read about Owen Chase, his career, and his family circumstances are all true. He was incredibly fortunate in business, as whalemen went, but as many people would say, he was unlucky in life. I preferred, instead, to explore how he would have faced those hard life circumstances, and how his family would have faced them both when he was home and when he was away.
Due to the extensive hunting of whales, whale ship crews had to go on increasingly longer journeys each time. When men from Nantucket first began chasing and hunting whales in the 1700’s, they might only kill one at a time and drag it back to the island for processing. Later, when they figured out a way to harvest the oil (et al) at sea, they started going out on short trips for perhaps a couple of months. But they didn’t have to be gone too long because the nearby waters were rich with game. By the time Owen first went to sea, they might literally have to go to the ends of the earth to find enough whales to hunt to quench the demand for a supply. And that is what led them to the place where they encountered a very unique but completely real enemy: a whale that aggressively attacked their ship and crew.
During this time, as mail delivery and exchange were haphazard at best, it was very common to have little communication with a whaleman relative over months and years. One historical account from my research told of a captain husband and his wife back home who had to exchange several letters over about 14 months to settle a disagreement about a fairly simple household matter she was dealing with back home! Other elements of the common whaling community life will be apparent to you as you read, as I tried to wrap in many such details.
It is interesting to note that Nantucket ended up being something of a birthplace for the American suffragette and feminist movement. L. C. Mott, one of the earliest members of that movement, would be born and raised in this place where women had to take the reins and do so much on their own to survive and maintain peaceful homes in an orderly society. In fact, the island was the first location in America where women could legally be assigned power of attorney for men in their lives.
In my way of thinking, then, Nantucket was both a testimony to the need for the presence of godly husbands and fathers (felt so keenly in their absence) as well as a testimony to the sheer faith and presence of mind it took to live with hope in the face of so much uncertainty about the future. These factors and others make this story one that I think service member’s relatives and those living in other cultures can relate to very well. And while fashions and technology may change, the human experience in the face of struggle and tragedy is still, at its root, so similar and relatable.
I’m really grateful for Kaylene’s extensive research and filling in some extra details for us! Okay, over to you in the comments. Have you noticed any themes in the book that resonate with cross-cultural life? What do you think it would have been like to be part of the whaling community? What stuck out to you from this section?
Join us as we read The Voice of Melody in Book Club this month! Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book.
January 12th: Chapters 5-8
January 19th: Chapters 9-12
January 26th: Chapters 13-15 and Postlude