The French Pilot. Book Review

11 May 2015
The French Pilot. Book Review

Flicking through an old legal register now filled with recipes, newspaper clippings and a few diary entries, Allen Steele stumbled across more than he was hoping for. He knew his family's oral history, but Steele was excited to find documents linked to his heritage. The book belonged to his grandmother, had been given to his mother, and then handed down to him before she died.

Immersed in the history of his family, the Lamoreauxs, Dr Steele-who now serves as assistant to the president and department head of communications at Avondale College-began an investigation that would take him around the world following the footsteps, the tides and the stories of his famous ancestor, André Lamoreaux.

FrenchpilotAndré was a Huguenot, among the French Protestants who followed the teachings of John Calvin and were forced to flee France in the 16th and 17th centuries to escape continuing persecution. The French Pilot is a riveting retelling of André's life from a young boy through the trials and events that would make him a hero in his family line, respected by his family and friends, and a dedicated man of God. Beginning in the late 1600s, Steele traces André as a child in a French village, Lusignan, to a coastal shipping town, Meschers, to Bristol, England, and finally to New York.

André's mother was a devout Catholic, his father a Protestant. He was unaware of the precarious line his father walked until the local Catholic priest overlooked André as an altar boy and treated his father different than he did the other fathers. As he grew older, André began to see the hypocrisy and false teachings of the established church and began to search for something different. It wasn't until a cousin introduced him to a hidden "chapel," a place where Protestants met in a clearing in the woods, hearing truth and praising God, that André gave his heart to the Lord and his life to service.

Steele takes the reader on an absorbing journey as we walk with André through his search for peace and a safe place to worship. Coincidence and his namesake, Uncle André, took the younger André to Meschers. It was here André learned to be a shipping pilot, met his wife, Suzanne, and started working against the King through daring acts helping Protestants flee the country: "And so it was decided. They would start an underground ferry to freedom for the distressed, under cover of darkness, just as their uncle had done before them. The pick-up point would be at Suzac Beach just north of Meschers. A dinghy would take people from the beach out to the ships in the estuary. It would be André's job to find sympathetic ship captains who would be willing to take the unfortunates on board" (page 83).

This wasn't the last time the Lamoreauxs would be involved in underground activities. Suzanne helped a local prison in Bristol, bringing food and water to the French prisoners; she also helped poor girls who had nowhere to go by providing them with a bed and food for a short time before André could get them to a new life; and finally once settled in New York, Suzanne became part of the slave underground railway, providing shelter and safety for two Negroes at a time as they headed north to freedom.

The French Pilot is a thrilling history lesson. Putting real faces and lives to the Dissenters, Steele opens readers' eyes, minds and hearts to what life would have been like for Protestants living under the unbending law of Catholic rulers. The Lamoreauxs encounter numerous faith-testing experiences-the loss of several children, two at birth, one at the tender age of three, the burning of their chapel, and the brutality of the King's soldiers-each drawing the family closer together and closer to God.

André's adept navigation skill made him a reliable sea pilot, but it also brought him a myriad of challenges including capture by pirates and a short time in jail. Although there were many frustrations and trials along the way, the Lamoreauxs continually trusted in the Lord's guiding.

Steele pens a fantastic summary of a beautiful life. Easy to read, interesting and thrilling to the heart, The French Pilot will challenge your own beliefs and keep you asking, "What would I have done?"

The Frech Pilot is available from HopeShop

Julene Deurksen-Kapao
Bible teacher (high school), New Zealand