|3 out of 5 stars|
I’ve been looking for a painless way to learn more about Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), in order to better understand Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker series. After reading the first book, I was convinced that Card was using Joseph Smith as source material for many aspects of Alvin and being non-Mormon, I wanted more details to confirm or refute my theory. This memoir seemed to be a way to fulfill that desire in an enjoyable way.
Jane Barnes starts her exploration of the LDS Church as part of a TV documentary series that she is working on. She discovers that the history of Joseph Smith appeals to her sense of humour and whimsy, that she has a number of relatives (fairly distant) who have converted to Mormonism (including Smith’s “body guard” and one of Brigham Young’s wives), and that the community of the LDS church feels very comfortable to her.
Ironically, although Barnes is perfectly okay with all the LDS details, it is the Christianity part that gets in her way—she just can’t feel like she has any particular need for Christ. Despite the fact that she is truly a religious seeker, ultimately she stays on the outside of any church because she just can’t swallow that particular aspect of religion. Another interesting aspect was that she felt most at home with a polygamist LDS sect in Utah because they acknowledged and celebrated Joseph Smith more than the mainstream LDS establishment.
As a genealogist who has spent time in LDS family history centres and a person who has Mormon friends, I knew a little bit about the LDS church. I’ve been to a service, which I can confirm did feel very welcoming. I was happy to learn more accurate information about the baptizing of ancestors and I could empathize with Barnes’ wrestling with religious questions.
I did learn a fair bit about Joseph Smith, although not in the detail that I was hoping for. Back to Wikipedia for me. Recommended for those who would like a gentle introduction to the LDS faith, some historical background on the only all-American mainstream religion, or those who are enthused about memoirs.