Review of “The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip” by Sara Brunsvold 

The main character of this novel, Clara Kip, is a remarkable woman who at 79 succumbed to metastatic cancer after a brief stay at the Sacred Promise Senior Care Hospice in Kansas City. In just over a week there, however, she changed the lives of all who encountered her, by her caring, her sense of humor, her strong faith, and the love that seemed to exude from every pore.

A parallel story concerns Aidyn Kelley, a young reporter at the “Kansas City Star” who is given the job of going to see Mrs. Kip to help her write her obituary since Mrs. Kip had no family. Aidyn resented what she thought was a throwaway assignment. But Aidyn’s editor, Bella Woods, told Aidyn she didn’t want a formulaic obit: “ . . . sit with her, and listen, Kelley. Listen better than how you listen to me. . . . A good writer knows how to find the story. She can hear it where no one else does. That’s the essence of what we do.”

The book goes back in time between the current day, in 2016, and seminal periods in Mrs. Kip’s life, beginning in 1969, nine years after her young husband John’s death; they had been married less than a year. Mrs. Kip never remarried, but redirected her love toward others, with, as Aidyn discovered, quiet courage, and immeasurable compassion.

In particular, after a chance meeting with Mai Khab, a Laotian refugee whose children were endangered trapped back in Laos, Mrs. Kip dedicated her life to helping the Laotian refugees that the US Government had abandoned in spite of their aid in Vietnam. Although the US had promised protection to Laotians, when they withdrew from Laos, as Brunsvold writes, “the US effectively reneged and abandoned the people to face the consequences of their allegiance. Alone and unarmed.” [Readers may be reminded of similar situations with the US abandoning the Kurds in Syria, or in Afghanistan at the time of US withdrawal, when the many Afghani translators and guides and their families, once hoping for sanctuary in the US in exchange for their services, were desperate to get out. Some did, but many did not. It’s a recurring pattern whether during Democrat or Republican administrations. And yet, oppressed people in other countries continue to take chances in the hope the US might make good their promises.]

Mrs. Kip’s faith was strong, and she believed, as she told Aidyn, “The grave is not my final home. I want to live as if I believe that. By God’s grace, I will live because I believed that.” But she also cautioned Aidyn: “Authentic love is the greatest joy there is, Miss Kelley, but it requires a thousand little deaths to self.”

Mrs. Kip asked Aidyn to write her “a death with pizzazz.” She said:

“At the end of my obit, I want you to write a new death for me. Something that wakes people up, gets them riled. Something riveting. Something memorable. Something . . . extraordinary!”

By the conclusion of the eight days Aidyn spent with Mrs. Kip before her life ended, Aidyn was indeed prepared to grant Mrs. Kip’s wishes, and without having to make something up. By watching and listening to Mrs. Kip, Aidyn found out just how extraordinary Mrs. Kip really was.

When Aidyn took her leave of Mrs. Kip for the last time, she said to her, “Thank you, Mrs. Kip. Thank you for helping me find a life that matters.”

For Mrs. Kip’s obituary, Aidyn wrote of her:

“She claimed her life was ‘exceedingly unimpressive,’ but in her time on earth, she went toe-to-toe with the most vicious killers, thieves, and liars this world has ever known. They go by the names of fear, grief, despair, hopelessness, and pride. She slayed away at their schemes, inch by hard inch winning territory for the kingdom of God. She fought especially for those who could not fight for themselves . . . ”

Evaluation: This book definitely falls into the category of “Christian fiction,” but the emphasis on faith serves as an explanation for Mrs. Kip’s life choices and how she adapted to whatever fate threw her way. The interwoven story about the Laotian refugees is an interesting one, and as the author notes in an afterword, was inspired by real people and events in Kansas City in the mid-1970s.

It is a story that will appeal to readers regardless of which faith they are.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2022

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