Appalachian Mountains, mid 1850s
Ten year old Cadi Forbes carries a burden that overwhelms her, separates her from her mother’s love and makes her the object of her community’s suspicion and derision. When Cadi’s beloved Granny dies the Sin Eater, a man cast out by the superstitious community twenty years earlier, arrives to fulfil his task of taking on the sin of the departed and ensure her journey to heaven, a custom brought to America by their Scottish ancestors. Despite dire warnings should she do so, Cadi looks into the eyes of the sin eater and her heart is filled with compassion and a desire for him to cleanse her sins. So begins Cadi’s quest for forgiveness, a journey which will reveal a dark secret and change her community forever.
Francine River’s , The Last Sin Eater , originally published in 1998 has been re-released to coincide with Michael Landon Jnr’s motion picture of the book. Despite having read the book almost ten years ago, I have been impacted this time by its allegorical message and beautiful prose. The story is evocative and heartbreaking, the tale of an inquisitive young girl whose quest for knowledge and understanding is simply not tolerated in a community dominated by Brogan Kai, a man whose ruthless and vengeful behaviour has been fed by a dark family history and a quest for retribution. The interplay between Cadi and Brogan’s youngest son Fagan, who desires to break free from his father’s shackles is sprinkled with humour and is a wonderful story of friendship. Alongside is the heartbreaking loneliness of Bletsung Macleod pining for the man stolen from her by another’s obsession. Then there is the sin eater, a tragic man tormented by his past, living to heal others of their sins believing it was the only way he could make atonement for his transgressions.
Francine interweaves the redemptive message of God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus, in a clear and powerful way that will bring healing, hope and joy if only the community can face their fears and confront the evil that has held them captive for generations. This is a stunning and compelling message that should not be missed.