Lifted from the obscure pages of history, the final chapters of the extraordinary life of ex-Jesuit Father Ignaz Pfefferkorn are related from the time of his release from Spanish prison in 1778 after ten years of hard labor. His earlier years spent as a missionary in the New World, Father Ignaz has penned the memoirs of his experiences in stages, “Unrest in Eden” the fourth volume of his life’s endeavors.
Emaciated and ill when released on the French coast to make his way back to his birthplace in the Rhineland, Unkel-on-the Rhine, Ignaz is in dire need of medical attention when given shelter by innkeeper Eveline Beck, with whom the exhausted priest forms a deep bond that sustains him through the unimaginable challenges of the coming years. All he wants is to return to the bosom of his beloved family, thoughts of whom have kept him alive through the terrible years of incarceration.
Finally arriving at Unkel-by-the Rhine, the travel-weary man is welcomed by his sister, Isobel, and her family, quickly drawn back into the safety and comfort of the familiar. When a local murder puts Ignaz at odds with the community, his involvement in the investigation—albeit requested—only serves to exacerbate the general enmity toward a drunken prelate accused of the crime, Ignaz working diligently to prove the man’s innocence.
In a blend of the spiritual, political and personal, the ex-Jesuit does his best to restore peace to the village he dreamed about while in prison. Frequent trips to the city of Cologne allow him a respite from local politics and exposure to the culture of that fabled city. An aristocrat with the heart of a missionary, Pfefferkorn’s interactions with clergy, family, parishioners and influential people fuel his inspiration to write fluently of time and place, politics and society. The petty squabbles of Unkel-on-the Rhine are soon usurped by the encroaching invasion of the French Revolutionary Army.
The priest’s unexpected relationship with the head of a local smuggling ring, the welcome influence of a wealthy and generous widow, and his affinity for a drunken priest define Pfefferkorn’s character and his ability to move easily among the various elements of society, to appreciate the private demons and aspirations of those he encounters, and to pen a cohesive account of historical events, even while in the throes of war. A noble and important figure in the evolution of a country bordered by revolution, instability and great political upheaval, the priest is a critical link between frightened parishioners and the stampeding armies engaged in battle. The mundane affairs of a village, even murder, are insignificant in the face of such brutality.
Father Ignaz suffers greatly for his flock, not an anomaly in a life dedicated to the care of others, but his patriotism and passionate advocacy of humanity lends a distinctly noble air to a life of compassion and sacrifice. Friendships formed over time become a source of strength as Father Pfefferkorn faces his final years, scribbling the final pages of his tale that others may know of this time and place, brave souls caught in the grinding gears of fate.