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Reviewed by Arya Fomonyuy for Readers' Favorite
Be Still the Water by Karen Emilson is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the tranquil shores of Lake Manitoba in the early 1900s, a story centered around the immigrant Gudmundsson family and their struggles to settle among the Siglunes in the early years of the twentieth century. But it’s not just about immigrants embracing a new life in a new country. Things would have been different if Pjetur's daughter, Asta, didn’t fall head-over-heels in love with the miller’s son. As if that wasn’t enough to cause trouble for the family, Asta’s younger sister disappears. Will Asta be able to accomplish her mission of locating and bringing her sister home?
Be Still the Water is a family saga involving love and secrets, a tale that is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking, but one worth reading. The story is told by the old woman who is nearing her death bed, and in a voice that is warm and intelligent, full of the wisdom of age. The first person narrative is a style the author uses as a master and it draws readers in immediately. At the very opening of the story, the author introduces one of the powerful conflicts and issues that move the gripping plot, the disappearance of Freyja, which immediately makes readers start asking questions. “Oh Freyja, where are you? Not knowing your fate has tormented me for nearly seventy years. Before I go, I will make good on my promise to find you.” After losing her sister for nearly seventy years and at her ripe old age, readers could well wonder if she has the strength to find out the truth. They won’t be disappointed because the narrator will navigate her family’s history with them and lead them through unusual paths.
I loved the language, the vivid descriptions, the occasional bursts of wisdom, and the compelling characters. Karen Emilson has won my interest in her work and she skillfully establishes herself as an expert in the historical fiction genre. One striking aspect of this work is to see how the author allows the narrator to portray her age and state of mind, allowing her personality to come across powerfully without distracting the reader. The idea of an old woman looking back at her family history lends the narrative style a flavor that will delight many readers.