Thursday, July 26, 2012

Reviewing "Soft Like Steel"

Perhaps the most compelling personal testimony I've read this year is the true life story of Mennonite housewife, Barbara Kennel, a woman who overcame personal tragedy, heartbreak and other significant difficulties in her quest to establish a happy home for her children in the difficult years before and after World War II.

The book is Soft Like Steel and its author is no less than the granddaughter of the book's heroic subject. Soft Like Steel is only 140 pages but Barb Malek manages to put into those pages a lot of history, a lot of memorable description and an awful lot of heart. Inspired (and substantially informed) by a journal kept by her grandmother, the Barb tells the story as it really happened, taking the reader through an emotional journey that tells of Barbara Kennel's numerous trials: the rigors of the Depression and the Dust Bowl, the death of a son, the war itself and, all the way along, the sorrows brought on by a cruel and unfaithful husband.

But before you decide that these circumstances mean Soft Life Steel will be a depressing read, forget it. Barbara Kennel's story represents an ultimate triumph which leaves the reader smiling and satisfied. And even the journey along the way is full of hope, joy and the powerful beauty one sees in a mother's dedicated love.

One never forgets the intense affection and admiration the author feels for the story's heroine. This is, after all, her grandmother. However, Barb Malek's abiding love and gratitude for Barbara Kennel successfully draws the reader in too. From the moment the journal is discovered and through all of Barbara Kennel's trials (her courtship and marriage, the death of a child, the various cruelties inflicted by her husband, the several periods of abandonment, a prison sentence, a confrontation with one of the "other women," etc.), the reader willingly joins the author in cheering Barbara on, relishing her resilience, glorying in the steadfast devotion she shows to her children, and applauding every triumph.

Soft Like Steel is a short read, as I said, but it's one the reader will not soon forget. The inspiration value is substantial - that's one reason it will stay with you. But you'll also find that it is a particularly effective stimulant to thoughts about your own family history and how you can be a better spouse, parent, uncle, aunt, cousin, and neighbor. I have a feeling that both the author and the subject of Soft Like Steel would be delighted at that outcome.

And one other thing. The legacy of Barbara Kennel's Christian faith, her love of children, and her devotion to relevant service has certainly been embraced by her eldest granddaughter, the one who shares her name -- the one who wrote Soft Like Steel. Barb Malek is a devoted wife, the mother of four grown children (one of whom is a missionary we support), and one of the founders and directors of the AAA Center for Pregnancy Counseling. Perhaps knowing this increases the reader's appreciation of how one life really can reach forward and bless the future. It did so for me.

You can order Soft Like Steel through Amazon or, perhaps better still and at the same price, order it straight from the publisher's web site right here.