Wednesday, February 27, 2008

book review: Reverend Mother's Daughter by Mary Haskett

Title: Reverend Mother's Daughter
Author: Mary Haskett
Publisher: Believe Books, 2007
Genre: Memoir
ISBN: 0978742818

“I don’t want the family to know about you.” These painful words spoken to Mary Haskett by her 91-year-old half-sister draw us into Reverend Mother’s Daughter. The book then goes back in time to tell the riveting tale of how Mary came to this point.

Mary was born in 1934 after her 40-year-old mother had a liaison with a young west African student. Reverend Mother, an Anglican nun, takes Mary into the Sisters of Mercy priory shortly after birth when her parents refuse to acknowledge her. Here she becomes only the first resident of Reverend Mother’s home for children, and is raised under the firm but caring hands of the sisters.

Mary’s first-person account of World War II as seen through the eyes of a child is fascinating. Using her incredible memory for details and her well-honed story teller’s instincts she takes us back to the day the children pack all their things and travel from London to Torquay to escape the German bombs.

We feel her wonder at seeing the sea for the first time, experience the terror of bath night when Ada is in charge, and identify with her confusion when Gardener Grimshaw invites her into his shed for more than peaches. Most of the time we live in the childhood world of games, play and sweet friendships, though the treatment she receives from some adults and children because of her race and orphan status is a damning expose of the attitudes and prejudices of the day.

After the war is over it’s back to London and then off to nursing school. Here Mary’s zest for life comes through as she gets her first taste of independence. Soon she meets the charming Mario and we join her in the thrill of first love, only to plummet to the despair of betrayal and the loneliness of living as a newcomer in Canada. Finally we’re treated to the pinch-me wonderment of mature love.

Mary’s coming to faith during one of the valleys in her life is the turning point of the story. Suddenly she sees her past in a new way. As she works through old hurts she gains wisdom and finds new usefulness. Even the rebuff of her half-sister that begins the story proves to be a step along the path to wholeness. Through it all she credits God, working through the loving care of Reverend Mother and others, for her happy productive life.

The beautiful cover photo of Mary as a child and the 22-page section of photos in the middle of the book bring the characters to life.

Reverend Mother’s Daughter will make you laugh, cry and feel outrage, relief, sympathy and admiration. It’s a story covered with the fingerprints of God’s grace. When you’re done I can almost guarantee you’ll want to pass your copy around to all your friends.


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