Everyday Mercy {Book Club}

Everyday Mercy {Book Club}

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.

From Kaylene:

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

Photo by Wes Grant on Unsplash

15 Comments

  1. Michelle January 5, 2021

    One of the things that struck me most was Peggy’s total lack of community and support system. I found myself asking a few times where all the other whaler wives were. One might think that they would bond together to create some sort of community and support system. I also really appreciated the acknowledgment of being held in God’s hands and feeling his presence even during the very dark and uncertain times. I’m looking forward to continuing the book with you all.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 5, 2021

      Hey Michelle, I’m so glad you are reading The Voice of Melody! That’s a good point about Peggy’s community- her loneliness and isolation feel so heavy. I wonder if at the time whalers came from various locations on the coast or the distance was great enough for transportation at that time that it didn’t allow her to get together with other wives? It does seem like they would have had a special bond- the way it is with a cross-cultural sister who just gets it and you don’t have explain yourself so fully. That kind of understanding and connection is so helpful.

    2. Bayta Schwarz January 5, 2021

      Good point! I seem to remember it being mentioned that their plot was a little ways from town. And it seems even the men try not to be out after dark. Also, I wonder if, for many of the wives, their main support system was extended family, and obviously, those relationships were fraught on both sides. And denominations seem to be very important yet I don’t get the impression that the one Peggy belongs to is a particularly close-knit community.

      1. Sarah Hilkemann January 6, 2021

        True, there were plenty of dangers and even a mile and a half walk would have been significant! I grew up in the country about 10 miles from town, and even in the 90s and 00s this impacted the friendships and activities I was able to participate in. 🙂

        1. Kaylene Powell January 8, 2021

          Ladies,

          Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Historically, we have no proof now of exactly where on the island Peggy grew up. I took the liberty of suggesting she grew up on the far end of the island to showcase a bit more of the island than just the town, and it is very true that thick mist and other factors made it less than easy for those living away from town to connect with the town folk more regularly in various seasons, even though the island is not huge geographically. While the historical Peggy may have had more close relationships than what I show here (again, factual proof of that one way or the other is almost completely silent), what I really wanted to highlight here is how many of us, when we are taking care of a family, living in hard circumstances, or both, may feel like the world is expecting us to be strong and that we can’t rely on others too much or burden each other with our struggles and responsibilities too much. It can be an easy thought process to fall into so that we feel further isolated and alone whether or not we are really physically cut off from others. Sometimes being admired by others for our strength can only further isolate us from others in our challenging times because we don’t feel allowed to show our weaknesses.

          1. Rachel Kahindi January 9, 2021

            I definitely related to that feeling of isolation & needing to be strong and do everything myself.

          2. Sarah Hilkemann January 11, 2021

            Being admired by others for our strength can further isolate us- I definitely resonate with that!! I know on the field (well, now too sometimes) I felt the need to always present a strong façade. But part of community is needing each other and this has to go both ways. Such a good point!

    3. Kaylene Powell January 8, 2021

      Michelle,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I imagine they would have empathized but also been very busy with their own households so sometimes unable to spend a lot of time together. I am thankful the deeper themes of the story are also speaking to your heart, a prayer I often pray for all my readers.

  2. Bayta Schwarz January 5, 2021

    There is so much I love about this book! Having grown up not too far from the coast (albeit a very different one), I find I’m particularly interested in maritime communities. I can’t even begin to imagine husbands and fathers being gone for a couple of years, with virtually no communication. Growing up, on Christmas Eve we would always listen to a programme on the local radio, broadcasting greetings from local families to their loved ones out at sea for months on end. This was obviously pre internet and cell phones. What a different world – never mind way back in the 1820s! I also love the way she brings faith into the story in such a genuine way (as opposed to preachy). And it’s just so well written! I have to admit that until I read this post, I had no idea that Owen Chase was a real person… Have googled him now 😊Another thing I looked up was the Quaker Plain Speech. So interesting! Can’t wait to see the story unfold!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 6, 2021

      Bayta, I love that perspective from living near the cost and listening to the messages for those out at sea. It’s fascinating that not even that long ago there were creative ways to stay in touch with those at sea.

      I know, I am loving this story too! 🙂

    2. Kaylene Powell January 8, 2021

      Bayta,

      I hope the chapters ahead will continue to bless you! If you have not already found info in your searching, I highly recommend perusal of online archives from the Nantucket Historical Association, and I also list several resources for further reading in the notes at the end. Appreciate your feedback here, and feel free to comment again in coming weeks with further thoughts on your reading experience. 🙂

  3. Rachel Kahindi January 8, 2021

    I also noticed Peggy’s lack of support, but it seemed to me that it was caused by the conflict within their families.

    I like the way they avoid using pagan names for weekdays and months. My husband and I were recently reading a book about Genesis, and it was talking about the 7 day week. It told about the Soviets trying to eliminate every aspect of religion, including changing the number of days in a week (because apparently there is no other source of the 7 day week than Genesis 1) and renaming the days (esp Sunday, called Resurrection Day). I’ve often wondered why the old names stuck around in English after Christianity came to England. Maybe that’s a topic for googling…

    1. Kaylene Powell January 8, 2021

      Rachel,

      Thanks for your interesting observations and reading with us. That is something to consider…why we use the words we use and what it says about our worldview. I have studied Mandarin and find it equally interesting that the Chinese still say “One Day” for Monday, “Two Day” for Tuesday, etc. on through the week, but Sunday is the only day with a different name, which is basically translated as “day of the sun” or “day of the week.” We do not have any historical proof of strains in Peggy’s own immediate family relationships (nearly nothing was recorded about her early life that I could find). But what I mention about Owen’s childhood is drawn from research. And it made sense to me that all they had been through would strain Owen’s family relationships to at least some degree.

  4. Kaylene Powell January 8, 2021

    I really appreciate Sarah’s note at the beginning of the post. I wrote The Voice of Melody and I have never read the original Moby Dick! (I read an abridged version while researching but that was all I could handle!!) My hope is that people who have never read Moby Dick would enjoy this novel on its own and that people who have read Moby Dick would also enjoy the small nods to Melville and his work that have I woven inside. 🙂

    1. Sarah Hilkemann January 11, 2021

      Kaylene, thanks so much for adding your comments and additional thoughts! We are quite privileged to have you. 🙂 I love that you made the book beautiful on it’s own without having read Moby Dick, but included those little gems for those who have!

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.