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Reviewed by Lucinda E Clarke for Readers' Favorite
The preface to The Book of Agnes by Michael Pedretti reminds us that we are all descended from the same gene pool and may be related to every other living person on the planet. This book divided into Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. Air is the tale of Agnes who bore her first child in 1923 in a homestead called Moundridge just outside Badaxe in Wisconsin. She and her husband William were descended from Italian immigrants who left Europe for a new life in America, bringing with them their complete and almost fanatical belief in the Roman Catholic Church. As she grew into her teens Agnes yearned to be a nun, a desire that stayed with her for much of her life, but due to family pressure and rampant hormones, she married young and gave birth to fifteen children, only two of whom did not survive. William was a man of the times, showing limited affection for his children, and he ruled the family with a rod of iron; none dared annoy or anger him. His word was law and life revolved around his wants and his preferences. However, he was a good provider, working the land from dawn to dusk every day, except to attend Mass on a Sunday morning.
Agnes too worked tirelessly, not only with so many children but without indoor plumbing, electricity, and all travel was by horse-drawn carriage. As the years passed and modern conveniences such as the motor car, installation of electricity, indoor hot water, and mechanized farm equipment became available, life got a little easier. But in between, there was the Depression and a fire that destroyed the homestead; times were harder than ever. William had to work building roads far away from home. It was also an era when every member of the family was put to work the moment they climbed out of the cradle. There were good times and bad times but throughout it all, the faith Agnes had in the church never wavered.
As I read Michael Pedretti’s book The Book of Agnes I wanted to laugh, cry, cringe and applaud. This is a great book. It stirs emotions and leaves you in awe of the advances made in the twentieth century. To me, Agnes was alive in my head and in my heart. I wanted to shake her for her slavish devotion to the Church, and beg her to question the dominance she suffered from her husband but those were the times and that was the lot of women (and still is in many countries). As the introduction to the book reminds us, women like Agnes are the real heroes of the past, not politicians and generals who sent men to war. It was the mothers who gave birth to so many children and a couple of decades later sent them out into the world to procreate in turn. We should commemorate them instead. We may lionize the warriors of the past but we should honor those who dedicated their lives to mankind in a quiet, unassuming life and, in Agnes’ case, in total obedience to her church. Even as Agnes attends the baptism of her offspring, she still reflects that God must have wanted her to take this path, despite her desire to be a nun. Now, her greatest regret is that not one of her children gave their lives to God. This is a book I shall remember for years to come and I couldn’t give it less than five stars.