From Publishers Weekly
Anna Øglende Spafford's life was a classic 19th-century epic, related perceptively by Geniesse. Born in Norway in 1842, she came to the United States as a child, buried her father on the Minnesota prairie, then married evangelical lawyer Horatio Spafford in Chicago. Somewhat unhinged by the Great Chicago Fire, bankruptcy and a shipwreck that drowned four of their daughters, the couple founded a Protestant sect called the Saints; hounded by creditors, they absconded to Jerusalem in 1881 with a handful of followers to await the Second Coming. With Horatio's death, Anna tightened her grip on her American Colony cult, abolished marriage and reshuffled couples into chaste affinities. Then she turned her sect into a business empire, including a profitable hotel, farms, bakeries and Jerusalem's first telephone company, all staffed by Swedish converts. Whew! There are neither villains nor saints in this story, notes Geniesse (Passionate Nomad
), setting her sprightly account against the era's Christian Zionism and millennial hysterias. Geniesse paints her charismatic heroine as part ur-feminist survivor, part totalitarian despot. (June 17)
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Geniesse documents the extraordinary life of Anna Spafford, nineteenth-century American expatriate and cofounder, along with her husband, Horatio Spafford, of an evangelical sect dubbed The Overcomers. Shortly after the Great Chicago Fire, a series of personal tragedies and financial difficulties motivated the couple, together with a small band of followers, to leave the U.S. and settle in Jerusalem. While awaiting the Second Coming, the Spaffords founded a utopian religious colony that eventually evolved into a successful business enterprise, with the famed American Colony Hotel as the surviving crown jewel of their financial empire. After Horatio’s death, Anna assumed leadership of the American Colony, establishing a series of controversial dictates including the abolition of marriage. Set against the backdrop of an evolving Middle East, this book provides a vivid portrait of both a woman and a region on the cusp of transformation. --Margaret Flanagan