Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Chance to Die (Amy Carmichael's Biography)

Elisabeth Elliot wanted to profile one to whom she felt she owed a great debt. It was through the writings of Amy Carmichael that Elliot first understood the great message of the cross, the sacrificial Calvary love of sacrifice. Before reading this book, all I knew about Amy Carmichael is that she is revered as one who surrendered her life completely to Christ. After reading her biography, now I know why. A Chance to Die is aptly named. Elliot recounts the many occasions and many ways in which Amy Carmichael chose to die--to self, personal desires, family and societal convention. The biography looks at her early childhood, her domestic service and projects, her call to foreign missions, and then details her life's work of establishing the Dohnavur Fellowship in India as a refuge for children whose lives were in danger.

Elisabeth Elliot, as one who is to many the model that Amy Carmichael was to her, was the perfect one to write this story. She writes about Amy with obvious respect, but also seeks to bust the myth that she was perfect, striving instead to show her high standards as something that could be attained. The depth of Elliot's own Christian experience comes through in the telling, even though there is no personal account, other than what is in the preface. Her research was thorough, including reading Carmichael's own published writings as well as personal papers, in addition to interviews with those who worked with Amy, and at least one visit to India.

"Books not only about military heroes, but about mountaineers, explorers, and great educators strengthened Amy Carmichael's determination always to aim high in the training of the children committed to her care" (p. 251). Reading this book definitely strengthened my determination to seek areas in my life where a more sacrificial love is called for. I also enjoy biographies as a means to experience things vicariously which I will never experience in this life. Learning more about the personal histories of those who shaped history is another reason why I find this genre interesting. Elisabeth Elliot expounds about why she wrote this biography, and I speculate that she is also sharing why she herself reads (p.16):
In spite of much that militates against quietness there are people who still read books. They are the people who keep me going. I write especially for those who bring to their reading a mind not hidebound by the sensibilities of our time, but prepared to contemplate the Eternally Relevant; to seek in this book specifically the truth and the hidden meaning of a single life.

We read biographies to get out of ourselves and into another's skin, to understand the convulsive drama that shapes, motivates, and issues from that other life.

Title: A Chance to Die
Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Published in: 2005 (but first issued in 1987)
By: Revell
Pages: 381
Book Source: Given to me by a friend
Recommended to: Biography readers, those interested in India, missions-work, or learning more about the process and practice of sacrificial love

Check out my other reading recommendations in my astore.

This review is linked to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.


RicMama said...

Ooh, ooh ooh! I gotta share this! Amy Carmichael was told by the missionary society that she served under to only send back 'happy stories' from the mission field. Well, for a long time there weren't any. She had been writing letters to friends back in England (I think) telling about the hardships involved in trying to minister to the people of India. (The missionary society didn't want to publish these letters.) ANYWAY, her friends convinced her to publish them; I think they actually did it for her. The book was called, The Way Things Are. Now this may not be news to you...but the cool part of my tome is this: I was in a hole-in the wall book store a couple of years ago and found a first edition copy in pristine condition! I paid $5.

Books are sooo cool!

Eileen said...

I never read this book but I'd like to. Will add it to my TBR list. Thanks for the review!

Carrie said...

I hereby confess to despising this book. I read it awhile back and had post-it notes all through it as to reasons why I was given NOT to agree with Amy Carmichael. (Please note: I had had this on my list of TBRs for a LONG time - being an admirer of both Elliot & Carmichael.) However, after hearing about her approval (and sometimes encouragement) of the seperation of married couples & families my opinion of her took a downward spin. I read this last year and my review of it is now archived on the Bookfest blog.

On the flip side, I think there are several aspects of Carmichael that are to be admired and imitated. "If" has been both meaningful and challenging to me. I definitely wouldn't shelve Carmichael -- Elliot just made me like her less! Ironically enough.

Jennifer said...

Carrie--thanks for the dissenting view. I responded to your review on that site. Your reviews are always impassioned, so I enjoyed them. Maybe you are a bit like AC--you think what you think!!! (and with the !).

Y'all should cut and past Carrie's address to read her thoughts as well.

Lindsey @ Enjoythejourney said...

I really want to read this; a few weeks ago at our homeschool co-op a deaf boy who hears with a cochlear implant got up and gave a speech about his hero---Amy Carmichael. He said she was his hero because she wanted to be born with blue eyes, and he wanted to be born with hearing. But, God used Amy's brown eyes to minister abroad as a missionary, and he knew that God would use his deafness to minister to someone too.

Blessed my heart, it did.

Kelly said...

Jennifer-I love your book reviews and reflections! This is anothe rbook I have thought of reading for awhile. Your input is great to have.

Blessed Beyond Measure said...

I loved this book. Well worth the time it takes to read it.

Anonymous said...


This is my first time coming across your blog. I have been looking for Amy Carmichael's book online, but my efforts seems to be futile. Is it possible if you would so kindly tell me where I could find her books online?
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read that article. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

Barbara H. said...

I just saw this on your sidebar. Amy Carmichael is one of my heroes, as well, but like Carrie, I wouldn't endorse every little thing she did, like separating families. But her heart for God is not surpassed by many. Funny, though I love both Elliot and Carmichael, this wasn't my favorite biography -- I liked Frank Houghton's Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur much more.

Zoƫ said...

Hi, I was just looking up Amy Carmichael books and came across your review. I know there are a few biographies for her. I was just wondering if you could recommend which might be the best or if they are all just as good as each other? You've done a good review on this - thanks! x:)

Darrelyn Bray-Casey said...

My Pastor called this book the best missionary biography he's ever read - and from the pulpit this morning - no easy feat, I'm sure. I will read Carrie's comments, read the book myself, and start following your blog (not necessarily in that order). Thanks for the review.

Janet said...

I've been curious about this chunkster for years but haven't read it yet. I enjoyed getting your thoughts about it!