Orson Scott Card's "Love Song" - Y Magazine
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Orson Scott Card’s “Love Song”

Reissued in hardback, Card’s excellent Saints is little known among Latter-day Saint readers.

Here’s good news for readers of quality Latter-day Saint fiction: Orson Scott Card’s (BA ’75) Saints (Hatrack River/Subterranean Press; 711 pp.; hardcover, $35) has returned, and in hardbound splendor. Saints is arguably the best LDS historical novel to date and certainly the best about the Church in Nauvoo and in early industrialized England. Card successfully places historical and fictional characters against a background of Church history without overwhelming, insisting, or preaching. Saints is fine fiction.

Card first published the book in 1984 as A Woman of Destiny, badly named (not by him) and positioned as a popular romance novel. Retitled and redesigned, the book was reissued as Saints in 1988. Although favorably reviewed, the novel received too little attention in Mormon country. This time around, I hope many readers will discover the formidable Dinah Kirkham, one of Mormon literature’s finest protagonists, as she struggles her way out of the factories of Manchester, England, and becomes a Mormon convert, a plural wife to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and president of the Relief Society. Dinah’s brother, Charlie, leaves behind great expectations to become a convert to Mormonism and a scribe for Joseph Smith, thanks to a dynamic and impassioned missionary named Heber C. Kimball.

In the Nauvoo section of Saints, Card introduces a vibrant and believable Joseph Smith, as seen through the eyes of Dinah and Charlie. Card’s Joseph Smith is a good, honest, confident, humanly flawed man who is “led, but not controlled, by God” (p. 695). He is the best fictional Joseph Smith we have. The whole story is told, with occasional asides and explanations, from the cynical perspective of O. Kirkham, a jaded Mormon historian who has brought Dinah Kirkham Handy Smith Young’s frank journal to light.

In his important “Author’s Afterword,” Card insists that novels are best when they avoid attempting to win converts and instead undertake to give readers “some idea of the experience of living these characters’ lives, making the choices they made, and living with the consequences.” In Saints, he writes, “I wanted to tell the truth about how my people once lived, not make an argument for or against them” (p. 698).

Card, a “whole-hearted believer” in Mormonism (p. 708), comes from Mormon pioneer stock, including great-great-grandfather Brigham Young and great-great-grandmother Zina Diantha Young. Card’s contribution to Mormon literature in numerous plays, essays, and novels is prodigious. But Saints, he writes, is his “love song to [his] own people” (p. 711).

When President Spencer W. Kimball called John H. Groberg (BS ’58) to serve as a General Authority in April 1976, the only question Groberg could think to ask was “Does this mean we will have to leave Idaho Falls?”

President Kimball said, “I know exactly how you feel. I didn’t want to leave Arizona, either. It is good to love your hometown and your roots, but, yes, this will mean moving anytime, anywhere in the whole world, for the rest of your life.”

Elder Groberg’s Anytime, Anywhere (Deseret Book; 218 pp.; $19.95) chronicles his 30-year adventure among the Latter-day Saints from Mongolia to Argentina and back to Tonga, where his missionary adventures began (as he recounted so memorably in In the Eye of the Storm and The Fire of Faith). After gladly moving “anytime, anywhere,” the emeritus member of the Seventy and his companion, Jean Sabin Groberg (BS ’56), have journeyed full-circle: they are currently undergoing new adventures as president and matron of the Idaho Falls Temple.

Stephen G. Morgan, in Hidden Treasures of Knowledge: An Abridgment of Ancient Religious Documents Which Support the Revealed Word of God (Deseret Book; 608 pp.; $29.95), makes accessible not-readily-found scholarly commentaries and factoids that suggest links between ancient religion and the doctrines, practices, and ordinances of the restored Church. Most useful are Morgan’s excerpts from Hugh Nibley’s studies of ancient temple rituals, as well as Nibley’s even-lesser-known studies of the Christian apocryphal literature of Egypt and Palestine.

Two recent books honor the late Eugene England (1933–2001), who taught English at BYU for 20 years. England’s intellectual and spiritual honesty combined with his thoroughgoing Latter-day Saint vision of a moral world to produce a rich legacy of poetry, biography, scriptural commentary, personal essays, and values-centered literary criticism. For Eugene England: Essays on Values in Literature(Center for the Study of Christian Values in Literature; 113 pp.; $16.75), editors and English professors C. Jay Fox (BA ’65), Steven C. Walker (BA ’65), and Jesse S. Crisler selected seven of England’s essays in literary criticism. England brings his refreshing, against-the-critical-grain moral vision to bear on such topics as American Romantic poetry, the pulls of romantic beauty and Christian grace in colleague Douglas Thayer’s short story “The Red-Tail Hawk,” the necessity of sacrifice in order to obtain forgiveness in Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy, and “Shakespeare as a Renaissance Therapist.”

Robert A. Rees (BA ’60), editor of “Proving Contraries”: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England (Signature; 290 pp.; $32.95), has gathered works by 21 writers—including poems, short stories, scholarly articles, personal essays, and a short play—that variously illustrate England’s embrace of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statement “By proving contraries, truth is made manifest” (epigraph).

Finally, two very colorful and engrossing books on Utah’s geology. First, in Utah’s Spectacular Geology: How It Came to Be (BYU Department of Geology; 203 pp.; $40), BYU emeritus professor of geology Lehi F. Hintze teaches, through easy-to-follow text copiously illustrated by 178 color figures and photographs, the basic geologic principles that explain Utah’s colorful and dynamic rock record. He then examines the geologic history of Utah’s three scenic provinces: the Middle Rocky Mountains, the Basin and Range, and the Colorado Plateau. It’s a scenic delight!

Second, in Beyond the Visible Landscape: Aerial Panoramas of Utah’s Geology (BYU Department of Geology; 300 pp.; $55), W. Kenneth Hamblin (BS ’53) (also a BYU emeritus professor of geology) has produced an incredible work of aerial color photography and interpretive essays. “Utah has the most colorful and varied landscape in the world: deep rugged canyons, plateaus, mesas, escarpments and alpine scenery,” writes Hamblin (p. 4), who guides us on a unique aerial panoramic journey across the fundamental features of the region’s landscape. The large format of this splendid book allows numerous two-page panoramas and photographs of the landscape unlike any ever made before. Written for the layman,Beyond the Visible Landscape reveals page after page of breathtaking scenery.

Richard H. Cracroft is BYU’s Nan Osmond Grass Professor in English, emeritus.


By Nathan N. Waite (BA ’07)

Three new titles by BYU writers appeal to both academic and popular audiences.

In Sunday: A History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Super Bowl (Doubleday; 450 pp.; $26), professor of history Craig E. Harline (BA ’80) attempts to answer the question “Just how did Sunday get to be exactly where it is, in this place or that?” (p. xiii). Harline examines the quotidian details of Sundays in medieval Europe, 1950s America, and a handful of other periods and locales. A smattering of “did-you-knows,” humorous stories, and script-like dialogues gives the book an engaging, readable style.

Daniel C. Peterson (BA ’77), professor of Arabic, sheds light on the often-misunderstood Islamic faith in Muhammad: Prophet of God (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing; 186 pp.; $15). The biography offers an informative, respectful look at both the prophet and the religion he founded. Copious footnotes reveal the extensive research behind the book, yet Peterson’s writing is accessible even to those who are unfamiliar with Islam.

Mark A. Wrathall (BA ’88), philosophy associate professor and editor of U2 and Philosophy: How to Decipher an Atomic Band (Open Court; 228 pp.; $17.95), argues that popular trends, including music, show what societies find meaningful and therefore merit serious study. Through the lens of U2’s lyrics, performances, and social activism, scholars explore questions of meaning and “the essential wholeness of human existence” (p. 28).