I must say I have never seen such a beautiful way of telling a very old story – the story of Sara and Abraham – from the moment they met until their first child was born. If you are a woman struggling to conceive, this book is for you – shows the trials and tribulations of a couple who do not let one of the spouse’s infertility get in the way, the life of nomad sheephearders in Canaan and the lives of women in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
I devoured this book from start to finish (and it was a big one!)
In his afterword, Card explains that here he is not an apologist for the Bible, but rather “an apologist for Sarah, a tough, smart, strong, bright woman in an era when women did not show up much in historical records.” He takes the tantalizingly rich references to Sarah in the book of Genesis and determines to bring her to life for his readers. This novel is not an epic volume rich in cultural and historical detail about ancient Mesopotamia, Canaan and Egypt.
Its focus is more what Card does best: exploring human motives and relationships, and the role of faith in individual lives. The entire novel is told exclusively from the point of view of Sarah and her sister Qira, whom Card has created as Lot’s wife. Qira is the blind, selfish materialist who cannot understand the kindness or self-sacrifice of the faithful who surround her and who chafes against her husband’s authority. Sarah, by contrast, is a wise and virtuous figure who struggles to have the unflinching faith of Abraham, even though she glimpses God’s presence in her life only rarely.
I loved the discussion between the old king (Sara’s father) and the priest of the Egyptian rulers:
“In every other land, we know that the King who dies and is raised up from the dead is the Son, and the one who raises him up is his Father, the God of heaven. Only in Egypt is it the father who dies, and the son who raises him up. For the very good reason that the kings of Egypt wanted to make the claim you just stated — that they have more divine power than anyone else. Pharaoh has no power to let his son be slain, and then raise him from the dead — only God can do that. But if you just change the story in this one tiny detail — have the son raise the father from the dead — then you can act out the story all you want, generation after generation. The father dies, the son does a ritual descent into the underworld and comes back to report that his father has been raised from death up to eternal life, to dwell among the gods forever. Of course, no one but Pharaoh sees this — Pharaoh doesn’t actually have to produce his resurrected father. That, too, would be very hard to do.”
I loved the love story between Sara and Abraham most. Their marriage I think is something every couple should aspire to and their statements to each other made me smile – as the type of deep respect and admiration is not often found in today’s literature.
Love is finding that the things you like best about yourself are not in you at all, but in the person who completes you
When they first met, Abram (not yet named Abraham by God), told Sarai he will return in 10 years to marry her and her faith in him made her wait patiently, strong – well after her time to marry had passed, well after she started being called an old maiden. And he proved to be a trustworthy man as he had returned before the 10 years passed and sent her a message to show his true feelings.
I am almost two years early, Sarai, but I can delay no longer. I wait for you outside the walls of the city, with a gift for your father but none for you except my love and my faith and my future, which I ask you to share with me forever.
Sarai looked up from the stick. “Father,” she said, “I think my husband has brought an inconvenient number of cattle and sheep for you to dispose of.”
“His message to me,” said Father, “spoke of plans to divide this herd and take the animals to a dozen other cities, where they will be sold and the proceeds brought to me. My only fear for you, Sarai, is that your husband will be poor, having given so much to me. And yet the gift does not begin to make up for the great loss to me when you leave and the light goes out of my life.”
Sarai burst into tears and embraced her father. “He remembered,” she said. “He remembered me.”
The only moment of discontent came when Sara decides to gift her handmaiden Haegar to her husband so he could have the promised child. Her handmaiden falls pregnant and already starts seeing herself as the mistress of the house and plots on getting Sara out of the game by treachery and false statements. Abraham bursts into his wife’s tent full of accusations from the mistress. It’s the only time they quarreled.
Silence fell between them, and lingered.
Finally Abram spoke. “I’m glad we’ve never quarreled before,” he said. “Because you’re a terrifying opponent in a war of words.”
So he was going to ignore what she had said, and accuse her of simply bandying words. Despair sent tears from her eyes again. She turned her face away from him so he couldn’t see.
He softened. “I should at least have asked for your side of thing.”
I have no side of things,” said Sarai. “I only want to be left alone while you and Hagar have your baby and go on with your lives.
They soon reconcile when the true face of the handmaiden is shown and they manage to live happily even after the child, Ishmael is born. The book continues with her sister’s visit and life in Sodom and different talks about Gods of men and heaven peppered throughout the text.
Qira, on the other hand, has not one redeeming quality. She ridicules everyone and even considers her own daughters an annoyance. She’s too easy to hate.
Despite these drawbacks, the story is well-told. Abram is more multifaceted. So is Hagar, who seems at times to be Sarai’s best friend and at other times her fiercest competitor. A servant since girlhood, Hagar wants to love and be loved but is hampered by her impulse to steal every advantage.
The story moves swiftly, climaxing at several points, such as Abram and Sarai’s stay in Egypt when the pharaoh wants to take Sarai as his wife. It is a quick and interesting read.
The biggest problem I foresee for this book is winning an audience. The natural audience — Christian and Jewish people who know and love the story of Abraham and Sarah — may well be offended by the liberties Card takes.
Some can be excused as poetic license or convenience — for instance, making Sarai and Qira sisters adds a heightened level of interest.
But other changes will be more offensive to people who cherish the biblical story. For instance, Card dismisses the miracle of Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt. In an afterword, Card, a Mormon, explains that choice and others, probably meaning to mollify traditionalists but perhaps making the situation worse than if he had simply left his choices a mystery.
So if many Christian and Jewish readers are put off by this book, who’s left to read it? Historical fiction fans? Not necessarily. Most responsible historical fiction embeds a made-up story within a such a factual setting as a documented Civil War battle. But Card readily admits he’s not doing that here; he doesn’t have enough historical facts to work from because the story is so ancient.
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