The Last Sin Eater
is one of those rare books that chose me instead of the other way
around. As much as I love Francine Rivers, I felt no particular urgency
to read this book. My mother said it best: “The name sure doesn’t make
it sound very enjoyable.” I had to agree. “Sin Eater” sounds like some
kind of grotesque horror movie monster. I read half a dozen other
phenomenal books by Francine Rivers, but this one I just tiptoed past
it like it was a great, sleeping monster.
The Last Sin Eater
finally caught up with me on a Saturday afternoon when I got an excited
phone call from my favorite Book Buddy.
“Sarah, I just finished the
most amazing book and you have to read it!” She
told me the name of the book and I cringed, but I promised I would give
it a chance. Three days later, it arrived in my mailbox. I ripped open
the envelope and found a treasure.
In The Last Sin Eater,
Rivers introduces us to ten-year-old Cadi Forbes and her community of
Scottish-Welsh settlers in the Appalachian Mountains. Cadi lives in a
cove with a variety of vivid, quirky country folk. But in the midst of
this patchwork quilt of colorful personalities are dark secrets, heavy
burdens, and deep superstitions. As young as she is, Cadi has secrets
and burdens of her own.
Cadi’s people believe in God,
but they also believe that for their sins to be forgiven, their sins
must be “eaten” by a man called the Sin Eater.” When a person dies,
this exile is summoned from Dead Man’s Mountain so that he can attend
the funeral ceremony and “eat” the sins of the person who has died.
Cadi sees this firsthand at her granny’s funeral. Weighed down by the
guilt and shame of her own sins, Cadi feels that she can’t bear to live
her whole life with her burden. She decides that she must find the Sin
Eater and have him eat her sins, or kill herself. When a man of God
comes to their cove, he challenges Cadi, the Sin Eater, and the beliefs
the community has held for so long.
Even though I had to be
practically tricked into opening this book, I now count it among my
special favorites. I found myself walking the woods with Cadi, hoping
that she would find the truth and be healed. I ached for these people
who were doomed to live their earthly lives trapped in their sins. I
became emotionally invested in their plight, and in the process they
became my teachers. Cadi, the adventurer with a hunger for truth,
showed me that finding the truth is worth fighting whatever deceitful
powers try to force you to accept a lie. Her community demonstrated how
to allow change, knowing that change is the only way God’s redemption
can happen. Those are pretty profound lessons to be found within a
little paperback book!
Obviously, when the movie was
released, I was interested to see what Hollywood had done to this sweet
redemption story. Clutching a box of tissues—because I cry even in
funny movies—I sat in the dark and watched Cadi’s world come to life.
As a screenwriter, I know it is impossible to move 325 pages of a novel
to the screen unchanged. However, Michael Landon Jr. and his group of
actors did a brilliant job with this adaptation. They managed to
capture the essence of the story. The pain and fear, hurt and failure,
hope, love, and redemption are all evident in this movie.
The main weakness of the movie
is that there is no way to explore many of the characters and
relationships that are so crucial to the strength of the book. Some
characters are left out altogether. Cadi’s brother, Iwan, whom we meet
in the novel, does not make it to the screen. But we also don’t get to
see as much interaction between Cadi and the people who are shaping
her. The most painful consequence of this is that we aren’t able to
explore Cadi’s painful relationship with her mother, Fia. This is one
of the major, driving influences in Cadi, yet we get only a small taste
of it in the movie.
I’m glad I took the risk to get
past the name, The Last Sin Eater. I recommend both
the book and the movie to anyone who has ever felt guilt, shame, or
abandonment, and to anyone who feels a need for love, peace, and
reconciliation. Let me go one step further and suggest that if you must
make a choice, choose the book. As moving and special as the movie is,
the book is so much more poignant, full and complete. To quote Cadi
Forbes, “It was one of the things that frustrated me most, only hearing
part of the story and not the whole.”