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| 28.8.03
Sarah: Women of Genesis, by Orson Scott Card

Sarah is the first book in what promises to be a great series of novels about the women of Genesis. As of this writing I know that a second book, Rebekah, is already out in paperback, and there may be more stories in hardcover. In any event, Sarah stands on its own as a fine piece of story-telling about the wife of a great biblical patriarch --illustrating the oft-neglected significance of the women in the Bible. Sarah is a helpful corrective to this tendency, showing her partnership with Abraham in a plausible, imaginative and meaningful way while still respecting the outlines of scripture.

Based on texts from Genesis 11-23, the Book of Abraham in The Pearl of Great Price, plus Orson Scott Card's historical research and unique interpretation of early biblical history, this book is a page-turner. I've read Card's science fiction, fantasy, mainstream novels, and now religious fiction. In every genre he is a powerful storyteller, creating characters that are vibrant, believable, and interesting. Sarah is no exception in this regard. She's depicted by Card as a strong, passionate woman whose relationships with husband Abraham and (for the purposes of the novel) sister Q'ira (Lot's wife) form a gripping dynamic that drives the plot forward from Ur-of-the-North, through Egypt, and finally to the Promised Land.

One very useful part of the novel, for those who are worried about what is true and what is made up in historical fiction, is the author's afterword at the end of the book. Here Orson Scott Card cites a partial bibliography, and discusses the historical and artistic choices he made in the telling of his tale. Be warned though --many people I have discussed this book with were so spellbound by the storytelling that they felt let-down reading the afterword. The novel is such a seamless piece of narrative that they didn't enjoy the illusion getting shattered --to a certain extent-- in the afterword as the author fully disclosed his options, choices, and justifications for telling the story the way he did. As one who enjoys deconstructing texts, however, I found the afterword to be a rare treat.

I didn't always agree with the author's interpretive choices. I felt he was purposely harsh in his depiction of Hagar and Ishmael in order to protect Sarah's reputation near the end of the story. Card also sets the time period for Abraham and Sarah as contemporary with the height of Sumerian culture --a choice I feel is centuries too early. Finally, he depicts the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as divine punishment for homosexual acts, whereas I believe that biblical passage is a story about violence, gang rape, and important cultural codes of hospitality. Lot's home town plays a relatively minor role in the novel, however, and setting the action earlier in history than is the scholarly consensus allows Card to explore a fascinating interplay between the religion of the pharaohs, Ur-of-the-North, and Abraham's God.

Quibbles aside, Sarah is a gripping, readable novel that will have you up all night finishing it and tired the next day at work. I heartily recommend it, and am looking forward to future novels in the Women of Genesis series.

PUBLISHER: Shadow Mountain, 2000; ISBN: 1-57008-994-9 (Hardcover Edition)

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