“Smoke Rose to Heaven Virtual Tour” Day #2
Wrestling with a Good Read
I remember clearly one of the strangest sermons I’ve ever heard preached. It was more book review than reflection on the Bible and it began with this reassurance: “First, we need to all calm down and realize this is a work of fiction.”
The year was 2006. A new movie had just been released based on a thriller novel that was rocking the Christian world. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown had the Church up in arms, asking and debating theological questions about the truth of scripture.
A grad student in literature at the time, I hadn’t read the book. I didn’t have the time, nor the energy to defend my non-pretentious genre reading choices, but I found the debate surrounding it fascinating. When I finished my program a few months later, Brown’s novel was the first pleasure read I picked up.
I enjoyed it. It’s a good story featuring an implausible but lovable hero who stumbles into an adventure steeped in art and history. It also toys with some sacred beliefs.
As a Christian, I’m generally not much troubled by authors playing fast and loose with issues of theology. It is, after all, fiction and I believe that occasionally wrestling with tricky questions is an important part of faith development. I kind of like it if a book forces an examination of my sacred beliefs, especially if it’s a good read.
But a few years later, as I embarked on writing my latest novel, I found myself looking back at the dustup sparked by Brown’s widely read book and wondering what, if any, responsibility a writer of fiction bears when handling issues of faith in his or her books.
Smoke Rose to Heaven is inspired by and incorporates a historical conspiracy theory that is sure to make some readers a little uncomfortable. The theory, known as the Spalding Enigma, suggests that The Book of Mormon is not the word of God as revealed to a prophet, but rather that it was plagiarized from an unpublished novel and presented to the world by a conman.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Latter-day Saints or any sect of the original Mormon movement, though I’ve come to know and respect many people of that particular faith. Still, if I’m being honest, the novel has, at times, made me a little uncomfortable, too.
I have attempted to be conscious of the difficult emotions the book may raise in some readers. I have worked hard to treat the faith of those who believe in the divine origin of The Book of Mormon as respectfully as possible while being as faithful as I can to the verifiable history as well as to the fictional story I’ve created within it.
Whether or not I’ve been successful will be up to each individual reader to decide. I suspect the book will receive a few negative reviews from readers who don’t care to wrestle, but my sincere hope is that most readers can enjoy it as fiction that may ruffle some feathers, but that is, ultimately, a good read.
New York, 1872.
Diviner Ada Moses is a finder of hidden things and a keeper of secrets. In her possession is a lost manuscript with the power to destroy the faith of tens of thousands of believers.
When a man seeking the truth knocks at her door with a conspiracy theory on his lips and assassins at his heels, she must make a choice.
Spurred by news of a ritualistic murder and the arrival of a package containing the victim’s bloody shirt, Ada must either attempt to vanish with the truth or return the burden she has long borne to the prophet responsible for one of the most successful deceptions in US history.
Protecting someone else’s secret may save Ada’s life, but is that worth forcing her own demons into the light?
SARAH ANGLETON is the author of the historical novels Gentleman of Misfortune and Smoke Rose to Heaven as well as the humor collection Launching Sheep & Other Stories from the Intersection of History and Nonsense. She lives with her husband, two sons, and one loyal dog near St. Louis, where she loves rooting for the Cardinals but doesn’t care for the pizza.
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