Devotion is a gloriously beautiful, heartbreaking story of impossible, indestructible love.
Hanne is a girl becoming a woman in a community of Lutheran extremists in 19th century Prussia. She has never doubted her family’s faith, but feels a deep spiritual and synaesthetic connection to the natural world, hearing an underlying hum of music. “Baptise me in rainfall and crown me in sunrise.” “I could hear the sunshine ringing like a blow to the ear.”
Hanne’s oddness is a barrier to friendship with the other girls of her village, but she is drawn to newcomer Thea before she even meets her when Anna Maria, Thea’s unconventional mother tells her “Thea, she … well, she dances to her own music. Much like you, Hanne, I think.”
Hanne and Thea quickly become the closest of friends and clearly share a deeper connection. Looking back Hanne sees that she “cannot remember these first meetings without the presence of love … Why have I remembered this if I was not, even then in my youth and innocence, buckled with unconscious hope.”
Events unfold, and the villagers of Kay are granted permission to emigrate in the hope of finding a place where they can worship freely. The middle section of the novel tells of a sea voyage, packed into a too-small ill-provisioned ship for months, the misery of sea-sickness and disease punctuated by small joys, including a whale sighting. On arrival in South Australia, the community settles in a land with a different song, which they quickly disfigure back into Prussia.
I can’t say much more about the plot without major spoilers. But at the start of the story Hanne describes it as a testimony of love, and at the end … “Love runs through her like a seam of gold. It runs through me, too, and we are illuminated.”