Friday, December 3, 2010

Book Review: Sarah

When I picked this book off of the shelves at my local library, I had hoped that it would be reminiscent of The Red Tent, a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading a few years ago.  Sarah did remind me of The Red Tent, but lacked a few elements that really made Diamant's novel sing. 

Set a bit earlier in the historical record in Ur (Mesopotamia) than The Red Tent, Sarah follows the story of Sarai, later Sarah, before, during and after she meets and falls in love with Abram, later Abraham.  I have always been fascinated with ancient civilizations, especially those of Mesopotamia, and the author does a great job describing that world.  His descriptions of the ziggurats and the hanging gardens are especially vivid.

Sarai is born into a life of privilege, as the only daughter of a powerful lord.  As she attempts to flee Ur after a failed marriage proposal, she meets a nomad by the name of Abram and falls in love.  Faced with the possibility of another loveless marriage, Sarai takes a potion that makes her infertile, elevating her status in society to that of a priestess to the goddess of war.

The rest of the story is known to those familiar with the Book of Exodus: Sarai and Abram reunite, marry, become Sarah and Abraham, travel to Egypt where Sarai is taken as a mistress of the Pharaoh, before settling in Canaan and all the while try in vain to conceive.  The searing pain which with the author writes about Sarah's desire to have children is heartwrenching and immediately understood, despite the over 2,000 years that separate the reader from the story.

Highlight below for a spoiler discussion:

The second half of the novel was written with a bit more haste than the first half, which was a bit disappointing.  I would have liked to have followed Sarah and Abraham as they raised Issac, something the book did not delve into.  It simply skips from the visitors who predict Sarah's pregnancy to the scene where Abraham attempts to sacrifice Issac with little reflection on the other moments that brought the characters to that point--picking known stories in the Bible and doing little to enhance or embellish them.  It was as if the author got tired of writing and wanted to tie up loose ends as quickly as possible.

I suppose because I was so familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, much of the book (especially once Abram and Sarai marry) felt a bit stale and predictable.  His other novels about lesser known women of the Bible (at least to me) Zipporah: Wife of Moses, Lilah and Mary of Nazareth might fare better in this regard.  In fact, I have started reading Mary of Nazareth and am happy to report that is feels a bit fresher and has a better pace than Sarah did, at least so far.

Overall, it was a decent novel.  However, if you are going to read biblical fiction and haven't read The Red Tent, I would definitely recommend you read that novel over Sarah

What do you think?  Have any of you read Sarah or another one of Marek Halter's novels? 

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