Emma of Aurora is a historical fiction that is woven around the story of Emma Wagner Giesy, a real member of the Christian commune by Jane Kirkpatrick. The book that I received was the complete Change and Cherish Trilogy containing the books A Clearing in the Wild, A Tendering in the Storm, and A Mending at the Edge. The book is 1163 pages long. If you have the opportunity, I suggest reading it on a Kindle or other reader. The book is heavy!
This was a great book that gives the reader an idea of what life was like in the mid-1800’s. The book opens in Bethel, Missouri at a Christian colony. The community lived separated from others so that they could live a fully-committed life in service to God and others. They live on a principle called the Diamond Rule, which is more powerful than the Golden Rule. The Diamond Rule says that they should leave others’ lives better than theirs. The Bethel Society was made up of mostly Germans and Swiss and was lead by their founder William Keil, who ruled with a heavy hand. Women and men sat separately in church and women made very few decisions for themselves. However, our main character, Emma, is a very independent thinker and loved to push the boundaries of what was proper for women of her time.
The first book, A Clearing in the Wild, starts when Emma is a teenager. It tells how she met and married her husband, Christian, and how with seven other men, they forged their way west to find a new place for the community to settle because they were fleeing the railroad and the influence of the outside world. The new colony struggles with the weather, huge trees, few tools, and a lack of workers to make the community a liveable place before the others arrive from Bethel. Emma struggles to raise her firstborn child with few resources.
Book two, A Tendering in the Storm, opens with Emma and her family living in Washington Territory after some of the Bethel Colony arrives and finds Willapa insufficient for the new colony location. William Keil takes the group and they move into the Oregon Territory and settle in Aurora. Emma’s husband, Christian, dies and, never one to take help from others, Emma struggles to raise her three children alone. After a time, she marries her husband’s cousin, Jack, a man who likes to draw and is fond of alcohol.
In A Mending at the Edge, book three in the Change and Cherish trilogy, Emma struggles to find a place in the Aurora Colony, because she is still is as headstrong as ever. While the colony continues to get new arrivals from the Bethel Colony, Emma is raising 4 children on her own. She fights to get a house for her children and herself while many others have none. When the colony decides that it would be best for Emma’s sons to be raised with a man’s influence, Emma starts taking in single women who are in need of refuge.
I really enjoyed reading Emma of Aurora and it was made more enjoyable knowing that much of what I was reading actually happened. As you can see by the links below, I needed to know more about what happened to Emma and to see what happened to the colony. I strongly recommend this book to teenagers and adults alike. This book is definitely worth the manufacturer’s retail price with the all three books in one volume.
Do you want to know more about Emma and the Bethel and Aurora Colonies? Here is a list of websites to help you on your way.
- The Aurora and Bethel Communes – The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, 
- Bethel – The Communistic Societies of the United States, by Charles Nordhoff, 
- Old Aurora Colony
- All about Emma – pictures of Emma and her family
- Emma Wagner Giesy’s obituary
- A day to remember Emma Wagner Giesy – 6/7/2014