Book Beat – Paradise Valley

The cover endorsement for Paradise Valley by Dale Cramer reads, “If you like Amish fiction, you’ll love this book!” I would amend this…”If you don’t read Amish fiction, you’ll still love this book!”

I don’t read much Amish fiction (although I’ve enjoyed Suzanne Woods Fisher’s books), but I’ll read anything Dale Cramer writes. He hooked me hard with Bad Ground, then made me a fan with Sutter’s Cross, Levi’s Will, and Summer of Light. He is a versatile and extremely gifted writer.

Paradise Valley is based on a true incident in the author’s family history. In 1921, the state of Ohio required all children to attend public schools, and five Amish men were imprisoned for refusing to comply. Faced with the choice of obeying the law of the land or obeying the law of their church, several families chose to settle in Mexico.

In Paradise Valley, the fictional family of Caleb Bender makes such a choice. They uproot from the land and the community they love and set off for Mexico, hoping others will follow. Teenage daughter Rachel is separated from the young man she loves, and her sister Miriam loses all hope of finding a husband. The Benders find fertile land – and danger. Mexico is going through birth pangs, settling down from the Revolution and the era of Pancho Villa’s raids on the US. Bandits roam the land, and the government is weak. While in the States, the pacifist Amish were protected from the lawless by the law – in Mexico they have no such protection.

Paradise Valley does not disappoint. Although softer-edged than Mr. Cramer’s previous works, this is no fluffy read. Deep questions are raised about standing up for what you believe in – and how to live a peaceful life in a land without law. His characters are deep and interesting – I’m particularly intrigued by Domingo, a young Mexican man employed by the Benders. The setting, the situation, the characters, and Mr. Cramer’s gorgeous prose broaden this novel’s appeal beyond the audience for traditional Amish fiction. I truly enjoyed it.