Author: Gale Sears
Publisher: Deseret Book
Published Date: April 2013
Hardcover: # of pages unknown
Genre: Historical Religious Fiction
Reviewed by: Shanda
FTC FYI: free digital review copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
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Descended from the Hawaiian royal line, Jonathan Napela became one of the first—and most influential—converts to the Church in Hawaii. A man of intelligence, social status, and wealth, he used his considerable reputation to further the gospel in his native land. He developed a lifelong bond of brotherhood with Elder George Q. Cannon, helping to translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian and establish a gathering place for the Hawaiian saints in Laie, Oahu. But when his beloved wife, Kitty, was stricken with leprosy, Jonathan made the defining decision of his life. He would leave his life of privilege to become her caretaker and spend the rest of his life on Molokai, the island of lepers. To those who suffered similar heartbreak and banishment, Jonathan’s self-sacrifice became their lifeline. Based on a true story, this is an extraordinary novel of a man who chose love in the face of death.
Gale Sears has a passion and talent for historical fiction. I was reminded of this once again while reading Belonging to Heaven. This fictionalized retelling of the history of the LDS Church’s early beginnings in Hawai’i was full of memorable characters, spiritual experiences, and inspirational sacrifices.
I didn’t know much about George Q. Cannon or the events surrounding the early days of the Church in the Hawaiian Islands (then known as the Sandwich Islands). I haven’t seen any of the movies made about those events, either. Reading Belonging to Heaven was not only an education for me, but also revealed a desire to learn more about the efforts of George Q. Cannon and others.
Beyond learning some Church history, I was swept into the story of the early Hawaiian Saints, particularly Jonathan Napela. The author’s portrayal of this dedicated elder and his relationship with George Q. Cannon was moving and memorable. The first part of the book was mostly about “Missionary Cannon” and his work on the islands. The last half of the book, though, was focused on Jonathan Napela and his efforts to continue to build the Kingdom of God on the earth during what would be the most difficult circumstances of his life.
Readers who love history, particularly Church history, will enjoy Belonging to Heaven. It is a book about love, sacrifice, dedication, and faith. I was easily pulled into the story, not because there was a fast-moving plot, but because of how well the characters’ stories were told. I was moved to tears more than once. This story will stay with me for a long time.
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