Philomena is sturdy young country girl who lives with her grandmother in a village in the Czech Republic sometime in the early twentieth century. After her Babushka’s death, Philomena goes to the city of Prague to learn to be a servant and to find her Aunt Liska who deserted the family many years ago.
The story is very Catholic, and Philomena receives messages via circumstances that she believes are from the sainted Babushka. This aspect of the story didn’t bother me even though I don’t believe in praying to or receiving guidance from the dead. Philomena does believe that her grandmother is guiding her and caring for her from beyond the grave, and the device creates a gentle logic and organization to Philomena’s journey to the city and her growth from an innocent little girl to a self-sufficient and mature young lady.
“Everybody else in the village went to church every Sunday. First they listened to Father Matthias. Father Matthias was a wise priest who knew all about the weather, the sheep, and the chickens. He told the men of the village when to plant potatoes and corn. He told them what to do when animals got sick. He knew about God and Heaven, of course, but he also knew that people must have enough to eat to be happy, and therefore good, so he taught them to be good farmers. Good farmers have so much to do that there simply isn’t enough time left over for them to do anything that would make God angry with them! The good priest told them about Heaven, to be sure, but he just took it for granted that all his people would go there. He didn’t have to bother to tell them about the other place. He was a very wise man.”
While Father Matthias’ teaching or lack thereof doesn’t exactly fit with my own reading of the Bible and its soteriology, it is refreshing to read about such a good and down-to-earth priest.
Kate Seredy (pronounced SHARE-edy) was born in 1899 in Budapest, Hungary, and she grew up as an only child in the home of her teacher father. After World War II, Ms. Seredy emigrated to the United States and became an illustrator, first of cards and book covers and other low-paying artistic endeavors, then textbooks and books by other authors. Eventually, Ms. Seredy began to write and illustrate her own stories, mostly set in Central Europe, Hungary and this one in Czechoslovakia. The White Stag, based on Hungarian mythology and folklore and not her best book in my opinion, won the Newbery Medal in 1937. Philomena was published in 1955 after several other books, either written or illustrated or both by the talented Ms. Seredy, had won Newbery awards or honors.