Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blog Tour: Belonging to Heaven

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Belonging to Heaven by Gale Sears,
2013, Rating=5+
Source: Received free review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review;
Historical Religious Fiction

Descended from the Hawaiian royal line, Jonathan Napela became one of the first—and most influential—converts to the Church in Hawaii. A man of intelligence, social status, and wealth, he used his considerable position to further the gospel in his native land. He developed a lifelong bond of brotherhood with Elder George Q. Cannon, helping to translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian and establish a gathering place for the Hawaiian saints in Laie, Oahu. But when his beloved wife, Kitty, was stricken with leprosy, Jonathan made the defining decision of his life. He would leave his life of privilege to become her caretaker and spend the rest of his life on Molokai, the island of lepers. To those who suffered similar heartbreak and banishment, Jonathan’s self-sacrifice became their lifeline. Based on a true story, this is an extraordinary novel of a man who chose love in the face of death.

WOW!! This book is amazing! The first part tells the story of Elder George Q. Cannon and his mission to the Sandwich Islands, as Hawaii was known at the time. He starts gold mining in California and it was hard work that wasn't producing many results. When the men's assignment changes to go to Hawaii, the mines miraculously open up and produce enough gold to pay their way to Hawaii. They travel to Hawaii to preach to the white people who were living there, but Elder Cannon strongly felt that they needed to learn the language so they could share the gospel with the Hawaiians. It wasn't an easy language to learn, but they were determined to communicate with the people. It took awhile to get results. Meanwhile, Jonathan Napela had an experience which opened his heart to receive Elder Cannon when he met him and they became fast friends.

Jonathan Napela is a district court judge and a son of Hawaiian royalty. He has a dream about George Cannon and when he sees him pass his house, he stops him and asks him to share his message. He grills him and likes the message he receives. Jonathan Napela receives a lot of opposition and his livelihood is threatened if he continues to listen to the missionaries. He shows his faith and continues to study the gospel and decides to be baptized and help spread the gospel.

By the time George Cannon returns to Salt Lake City (he was there for four years), there are 3,000 members of the church, some of the Hawaiian men hold the priesthood and are serving as missionaries and the Book of Mormon has been translated (but still needs to be printed). The people are sad to see Elder Cannon go and we learn of the progression of the work through their letters to each other. He had been really close with Jonathan and Kitty's young daughter, Hattie, and they also continued to write through the years. Hattie is amazing. She makes a mistake when she's a young woman that causes a rift between her and her mother and has to make some hard decisions but she has a lot of strength to endure all that she needs to.

Then, the leprosy. Oh, my! I cried or had tears in my eyes from the time we learn of that through the end of the book. My family was wondering if I was okay. This is the first I've read of what day to day life was like for those with leprosy. They were taken from their families, even young children, to live the rest of their life on an island together. The goodbyes were heart-wrenching, especially when Hattie had to say goodbye to her parents. When Jonathan and Kitty got to Moloka'i, the conditions were rough and there was lots of work to be done to make sure the residents had food, shelter and medical care. A Catholic priest, Father Damien, soon joined them and he and Jonathan worked tirelessly to make sure everyone was taken care of and together they loved and served the people well. The ending had me in tears again. I don't want to spoil it but will say that it was touching and beautifully written.

I loved learning more about the Hawaiian culture and history of the church over there. I remember my brother's advice to me when I left on my mission back in 1990: "Love the people." That advice is timeless. It worked in the 1850's for Elder Cannon and it still works today. This book is full of faith, love, compassion and service. I loved all the people in this story and highly recommend it!!

Author Gale Sears

Gale Sears is an award-winning author, known for her historical accuracy and intensive research. Gale received a BA in playwriting from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in theater arts from the University of Minnesota. She is the author of the bestselling The Silence of God and several other novels, including The Route, Christmas for a Dollar, Autumn Sky, Until the Dawn, and Upon the Mountains. She and her husband, George, are the parents of two children and reside in Salt Lake City, Utah.

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