Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Kate Sidley

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

It’s all blood and gore, dystopian worlds and kinky sex in fiction these days. Or is it?

IT’S all blood and gore, dystopian worlds and kinky sex in fiction these days. Or is it? No, actually. Just because some of us are dirty-minded crime freaks doesn’t mean everyone else is.

Millions of readers are, in fact, reading books about young Amish ladies in bonnets. Having led a sheltered life here among the mainstream, I had no idea that Amish romance novels were a “thing”. But they are. They’re huge. It’s like a secret wormhole in the publishing universe – having a picture of a pretty girl with a head covering on the book cover increases sales dramatically.

Beverly Lewis’s The Shunning started it all in 1997, selling 125000 in its first year. And where she led, others followed.

If you’re looking for gritty realism and a literary turn of phrase, this genre is probably not for you. These are wholesome, optimistic books. The endings are happy and neat. No one is going to whip out the cocaine. Seldom do the characters stab each other to death. In these books, you will find many appealing things. Simple folk struggling with the temptations of “fancy” music and clothes. Horse-drawn buggy rides. Family dinners attended by obedient children who are not umbilically attached to cellphones. In fact, they don’t have cellphones. Or PlayStations. Or belly rings.

It sounds pleasant, but the South African market hasn’t embraced Amish fiction. It’s simply too foreign. However, Struik Christian Media’s Leani Jansen van Vuuren says Christian fiction is thriving worldwide. Christian-themed fiction is one of the fastest-growing publishing sectors in the US, and top novelists in the genre sell millions of copies.

SCM represents leading international Christian publishers, distributing their books in South Africa. The list includes Christian living, books for spiritual growth, parenting, relationships, motivational books and even biographies, for instance of popular gospel singers, as well as fiction. They also publish local Christian titles and translate international titles into Afrikaans. The CUM chain of shops specialises in such books and has over 40 stores and a website for online shoppers.

“Fiction has always been an escape from real life,” says Jansen van Vuuren. “Christian fiction mostly offers beautiful, emotional stories of people going through something difficult. But in the end you get a strong motivational, inspirational message.” Generally, the books avoid explicit sex and violence, although some are edgier – but even the dark, gory thrillers have a strong Christian message.

The Shack by William P Young is a Christian publishing legend. Young wrote it for his family and printed a few copies at a local store. It tells the story of a man in the depths of grief following the murder of his daughter. He is invited to the shack from which she had been abducted. There he meets God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, represented by a sassy black woman, a Middle Eastern carpenter with a big nose, and a delicate Asian woman, respectively.

When the book was picked up by a mainstream Christian publisher, this unorthodox characterisation of the holy trinity caused some upset among some of Young’s fellow Christians. But while some cried “heresy”, 18 million others bought the book. SCM has sold 32000 copies in South Africa, in Afrikaans and English.

Young’s second book, Cross Roads, has just been published and is likely to find a ready audience. Even without a bonnet.

Kate Sidley is the Sunday Times Book Columnist

 

Please register or log in to comment