The Rapture of Canaan

( 58 )

Overview

At the Church of Fire and Brimstone and Gods Almighty Baptizing Wind, Grandpa Herman makes the rules for everyone, and everyone obeys, or else. Try as she might, Ninah hasn't succeeded in resisting temptation her prayer partner, James and finds herself pregnant. She fears the wrath of Grandpa Herman, the congregation and of God Himself. But the events that follow show Ninah that Gods ways are more mysterious than even Grandpa Herman understands.

This "assured, ...

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Overview

At the Church of Fire and Brimstone and Gods Almighty Baptizing Wind, Grandpa Herman makes the rules for everyone, and everyone obeys, or else. Try as she might, Ninah hasn't succeeded in resisting temptation her prayer partner, James and finds herself pregnant. She fears the wrath of Grandpa Herman, the congregation and of God Himself. But the events that follow show Ninah that Gods ways are more mysterious than even Grandpa Herman understands.

This "assured, devastating" novel (Booklist), the story of a teenage girl growing up in an isolated religious community and daring to indulge a forbidden love, is "gracefully written" and "a worthy successor" to Sheri Reynolds' bestselling debut. From the author of Bitterroot Landing. A choice of the LG.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this gritty portrait of a young girl who battles repression in a rural Southern religious community, Reynolds (Bitterroot Landing) once again showcases a compelling narrative voice that's simultaneously harsh and lyrical. The narrator is Ninah Huff, granddaughter of Herman Langston, the founder of a Pentecostal sect in rural South Carolina. Herman is a strict disciplinarian, to say the least: he forces one congregant found guilty of drinking to sleep in an open grave. Because of the Pentecostal group's rigid attitudes, Ninah and her peers are frequently scorned and mocked at school. But her real problems start when she becomes pregnant by her prayer partner. Ninah's subsequent rebellion and the tragic aftermath of her tryst threaten to tear the community apart, particularly when the despotic Herman interprets an ordinary, curable birth defect in her infant son, Canaan, as a sign that she has given birth to the new messiah. While many of the issues Reynolds deals with are coming-of-age staples-teen rebellion; the standoff between adolescent expression and religious repression; the morality of the individual vs. the morality of the group-her gift for characterization ultimately transcends the material as Ninah's strength and resilience enable her to move beyond benighted religiosity toward a true and lasting faith. Literary Guild featured alternate selection.
Library Journal
For Ninah Huff, being different from most people has meant being saved. Growing up in her grandfather's penitential religious commune in the rural South, Ninah is surrounded by love and the assurance of sanctity, though she sometimes wonders if she is truly holy. At 14, she begins to have serious doubts. Are all outsiders really damned? Are long, somber dresses and never-cut hair really necessary? Most of all, how sanctified are the feelings sparking between Ninah and James, her prayer partner in the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind? With Ninah's pregnancy, questions of faith and sin take on real urgency, leading to tragedy and even a miracle. Ninah relates her story in prose both poetic and page turning; Reynolds lives up to the praise garnered by her first novel, Bitterroot Landing (LJ 11/15/94).-Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425162446
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 316,214
  • Lexile: 910L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.08 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Sheri Reynolds was born in rural South Carolina and now lives in Virginia. She has taught English at Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University, and The College of William and Mary. She is at work on a new novel.

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Table of Contents

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Reading Group Guide

ABOUT THE TITLE

At the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind, nearly every pleasure is forbidden, and every action takes place under close scrutiny. Herman Langston, founder of this isolated Pentecostal community, believes he has structured an existence where his followers' only thoughts are of preparing for God's rapidly approaching Day of Judgment, "the rapture."

But for Ninah Huff, Herman's 14-year-old granddaughter, the world is a much more complicated place. Her passionate pursuit of righteousness has collided with her attraction to her young prayer partner, James. The consequences of their relationship rock the very foundation of the community, and the conception of their child is the catalyst for Ninah's dramatic coming-of-age.

Told in Ninah's clear, powerful voice, The Rapture of Canaan is the bittersweet story of a girl's moving beyond the unquestioning acceptance of religion to a true, loving faith. In the process, she comes to learn that "what is normal is miraculous enough."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in rural South Carolina, Sheri Reynolds now lives in Virginia. She has taught English at Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University, and The College of William and Mary. She is at work on a new novel.

PRAISE

"The newest and most exciting voice to emerge in contemporary Southern fiction." – San Francisco Bay Guardian

"Truly rapturous. Ms. Reynolds's poetic gifts are uncommonly powerful." – The New York Times Book Review

"Reynolds delivers folksy lyricism...colorful supporting cast... a fresh story. As they say in church, 'Hallelujah.'" – The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A riveting, thought-provoking experience.... A compelling story." – The Boston Globe

"Powerful." – Atlanta Journal & Constitution

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Ninah struggles to understand the difference between "good whores" and "women of passion," as well as the ways society views them. At the novel's conclusion, what has she learned about being a good woman and about the nature of good and evil, in general?
  2. As Ninah matures, she comes to see Fire and Brimstone "like an island sinking from the weight of fearful hearts" (p. 17). Why is it so difficult for an isolated community to maintain its strength and vision? What is the role of such a group's leader, and do you consider Herman an effective leader?
  3. The empathy shared by Ninah and her grandmother touches every aspect of the girl's life. What is the significance of Ninah's projecting her thoughts and feelings onto the stories Nanna tells about her own past? (See pp. 69-71, pp. 207-212.) Given the relative weakness of her parents' personalities, what do you think would have happened to Ninah without the gift of Nanna's presence in her life?
  4. How does the creation of Ninah's rugs mirror the process of storytelling in the novel? What does Ninah mean when she says that each rug is "never hers" and that "like all lies, loves, stories, it is imperfect, but I could walk on it." (p. 1-2)?
  5. Why would young people find it difficult to embrace a religion like Fire and Brimstone that focuses on severe discipline and the end of life on earth? By the end of the novel, has Ninah completely rejected her religion? If she chooses to stay in the community, accepting some of the religion's tenets while disregarding others, can she rightly still be considered a member of her Church? Do you feel a person can be a member of any religion without adhering to all of its beliefs?
  6. In what ways can the beginning of Ninah's menstrual flow be considered the "inciting moment" of the novel (that is, the circumstance that sets the book's events in motion)? How does the author use the symbolism of blood to achieve impact at various points in the story? Why is it fitting for Ninah to include blood in her materials for weaving rugs?
  7. How do the harsh punishments administered by Grandpa Herman and the Church lead to Ninah's mortifying her own flesh? What does the group hope that severe punishment will accomplish, and what does it achieve in actuality? What is the significance of Ninah's not bothering to sleep on nettles when she discovers she is pregnant?
  8. What is the role of Ninah's friendships with Ajita and Corinthian in her coming-of-age? How would Ninah and the Fire and Brimstone community have been different if the group's children were tutored at home rather than taught at public school?
  9. How does the character of Ninah's grandmother humanize and add to the reader's understanding of the novel's other characters, especially Herman? How has Nanna survived so long within the community despite being skeptical of its beliefs, and why doesn't she take an active role in changing them?
  10. Why does Ninah ironically feel lonely in a community that emphasizes sameness? Why do cults encourage the loss of separate identities among their followers, and why are these followers willing to give them up? How does Ninah's special status as Canaan's mother disturb the balance of the Fire and Brimstone community?
  11. In your opinion, what should be the role of religion in shaping the morals of children? Is instilling guilt the best way to promote ethical behavior? What, if anything, can be the alternative? Do you think James and Ninah were adequately prepared by their religion to face temptation and deal with its consequences? Why, or why not?
  12. Why does the conferred status of "the New Messiah" paradoxically strip Canaan of his dignity? How does Ninah's final act in the novel restore it? How does the author utilize acts of cutting throughout the book as metaphors for Ninah's severing the bonds of her childhood and her religion?

RELATED TITLES

Bitterroot Landing

Sheri Reynolds's first novel is the compelling story of Jael, a woman born into a hard life made more difficult by the constant buzz of competing voices. Some are real, like those of the women in her incest-survivor group; others are more mysterious, like the Virgin Mary's. But Jael is a survivor, growing stronger all the time…waiting for the day when the only voice she needs is her own…

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 58 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(37)

4 Star

(10)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 57 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 28, 2009

    Oprah's Brand of Christianity on Display

    I would not expect a Christian story worthy of the Oprah Club's endorsement to be less than negative toward the faith. But what I did not expect was the disgusting and heretical treatment on display by Ms. Reynolds on page 72 - the last page of this tome I could bear to read:

    That night I dreamed of Jesus on the cross, on a cross in the field behind the church....I dreamed I went outside in just my gown and walked up to him. He was too nearly dead to speak, but all he had in his eyes was love for me. And I walked up to the wound in his side where he'd been stuck with a sword. I put my mouth on that wound and began drinking from it, swallowing his blood. And then the wound his his side became a mouth, kissing me back, and I could slip my tongue into the wound, feel the inside of his skin with my tongue, circle it there tasting him.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2010

    Disgusting

    I would never have finished this book if it had not been required by my instructor. To call this book "literature" is to insult almost every other piece of literature I have ever read. It served only as a vehicle for Reynolds to vent her Oprah-style disdain for biblical Christianity by showing a ridiculous, totally unrealistic and blasphemous distortion of it. I threw my copy in the trash once my assignment was over to prevent someone else from the pain of enduring it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2005

    Emotionally exhausting

    This book has to be one of the best books I have read. Reynolds writes in such a way that you identify with the characters and in their own way they become a part of who you are. Amazingly well written, this book is a must read for all women and mothers. Anyone who has ever loved anything can surely identify with the love and loss that Ninah expiriences.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 6, 2012

    Uncomfortable at times, but impossible to put down!

    This book was peppered with beautiful, deeply moving imagery intricately woven into a most repugnant tapestry. My stomach turned as I read of the fear-driven abuse inflicted on a young female protagonist (and other members of this communal congregation) by the elders of this church, all of whom were coerced, indoctrinated & made to be fully dependent on a sadistic patriarch, expatiating a most vulgar, self-serving dogma under the guise of Christianity. The story was masterfully told with vivid detail, complex character development and evoked a gamut of emotion throughout. I was hooked in by this pitiful protagonist, sustaining on blind faith and obedience, and I was compelled to stay by her side & see it through with her to the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2012

    Kept my attention all the way through

    You must be understanding to the power and control that religion can play within a family to appreciate this book. But if you've been there, this book is for you.

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  • Posted May 3, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great Setting

    I've always been intrigued by small religious communities: the Amish, the Mennonites, etc. who seemingly live in their own time and space. The author does a great job in this book with setting the scene. While reading this book, I too was walking around the compound of The Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind. I was very angry at whoever wrote the description on the back of the novel however, as they gave away events in the story that don't happen until well into half the novel. Even so, I enjoyed the story of Ninah and was rooting for her the whole way through.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2008

    A Masterpiece of Human Emotion.

    Well for starters, this novel was impeccable in all its erodic detail. This novel wishes,no, demands that you unravel every thought, emotion, and being. Ninah, a true inspiration for women in hardship and woe. Sheri Reynolds, as I notice while reading her books always writes of a female who shows signs of struggle, but then success which can empower any woman of hardship to strive towards true happiness. The Rapture of Canaan can only be described in one word, perfect.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2005

    RAPTEROUS!

    This book was captivating, I loved it. Not only did it keep my attention the characters were flawless, I loved them all. Nina especially for sticking up for what James and her did. She stood up for what she believed in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2005

    Beautiful

    It was captivating. This girl became her own person and she was brave throughout it all. James couldn't handle it, but she was twice as strong by taking on her burden along with his.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2004

    Astouding

    The Rapture of Cannan is an interesting account of religous legalism. Although shocking, a person who is aware of denominational extremes can fully appreciate the reality of this novel. It is clear the writer did her homework. The story line was unpredictable, however the ending left me a bit dry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2004

    One of the best booke written

    Ninah is a girl brave, passionate and one of who I will never forget. I read this book for the first time when I was 15 close to her age and now at 17 this book still touches me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2004

    Ok, but not great

    I enjoyed reading this book, however the grandfather view of life deeply bothered me throughtout the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2004

    Second time around...still number 1 for me!

    I have just completed this book for the second time and find that my first impressions were correct....this is a must read. My favorite book ever. I feel Ninah's pain!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2004

    A Good Read

    I read this book in a few nights and I must say although it is set in a very sad, dark and hopeless setting it piqued my intrest from the first few pages. If your looking for a not so politically correct book about the deep south and how a private religious family/congregation lives then look no further.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2004

    Best book ever!

    The Rapture of Canaan is my favorite book. I read it for the first time seven years ago and I have been reading it at least once a year. It's a beautiful yet tragic story. No matter what genre of writing you most enjoy, you will love this book. For instance, my husband mostly reads crime novels and sci-fi books. He read The Rapture of Canaan and it is now one of his favorite books. Don't pass this one up!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2003

    Reminicent of The Poisenwood Bible

    Get taken into an entirely different culture, one that revolves around the rantings of Ninah's grandfather. Ninah, as a character, is strong and emotionally well-defined. Well written, and an easy read, a page turner that you won't put down. The religeous references throughout the novel are sure to spur some interesting debates!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2003

    amazing!!!!

    This truly has to be the best book i have read yet! I finshed it in 2 days beacuse i couldn't put it down. Even when i wasn't reading it i was still thinking about it!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2002

    Get ENRAPTURED!!

    From the very first page, you will be enraptured into the world of a young girl trying to make sense of it all as she comes of age - yet still holding onto her religious beliefs... or is she? It's as if the words are lifted right off the page as the author, Reynolds, writes a poignant, powerful, and passionate account of a zealous community told through Ninah's eyes. The manner in which Reynolds portray this communities religious beliefs and practices is astounding. Another thing, the extreme nature of how this religious community functions/believe may be disturbing to readers. At times, I cringed, my stomach twisted, and my heart ached as I read on... But in many ways, I could relate to Ninah - who desired to believe - but had so many questions about WHAT or HOW to believe. All of the characters were so vividly depicted, it's as if I knew each of them. It was so easy to envision what it would be like to live there... how the characters looked like. I read the book in a day - not because it was TOO easy... but simply because I could not seem to put it down. Page after page, I became engrossed in Ninah's story and wanted MORE! My only disappointment was the ending. It didn't provide me with the closure I needed... But I guess that's a good thing, too cuz it leaves my imagination run wild about what may happen to her and to the community. So what are you waiting for? Get ENRAPTURED!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2002

    FINALLY A BOOK THAT SIMPLIFIES TEEN THOUGHTS!

    This is the first and only book that I have read so far that has really gone into the minds of what a lot of teenagers struggle with on a daily basis. Fighting their own demons as well as that of adults who try to impose lifestyles on them. Religion which plays a huge part in my life was shown in this book to be a positive however, on the same hand, it shows what happens when young people (such as myself) have to try to define their own paths whether or not it is based on religion. I first read this book when I was about 14 or 15, and I am now 17 going on 18, and when I first read it I was amazed at how much Ninah's character was like my own. She raised some of the same questions that I still do and she is fighting a battle within herself dealing with emotions such as love and lust. Everytime I read this book I love it more and more. It is my all time favorite and it is EXCELLENT! I encourage all to pick this book up at sometime. It will be totally worth your time, I guarantee it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2002

    The Best Book I've Ever Read

    I had to read this book for a religion class summer reading assignment and figured I probably wouldn't like it. Once I read it, though, I didn't feel like reading any other books because they couldn't be as great as this one was.

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