Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Review: Naomi and her Daughters

Author: Walter Wangerin

Title: Naomi and Her Daughters

Description (source): From master storyteller Walter Wangerin, Jr. comes this familiar biblical saga told in a fresh, transfixing way. You'll feel you've never heard it before! Melding historical accuracy with imaginative detail, Wangerin uses the biblical books of Judges and Ruth to explore themes of love, faith, grief and community set against a backdrop of war and political instability. The widow Naomi grieves the deaths of her two adult sons after the shocking murder of a beloved adopted daughter, while pondering her responsibilities toward her Moabite daughters-in-law. Ancient Israel is in chaos. When her daughter-in-law, Ruth, begs to return to Israel with Naomi, events are set in motion that will change the course of history. But wait...this isn't the tame, flannel graph story you heard in Sunday School. In the tradition of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent and Elissa Elliott's Eve: A Novel of the First Woman, Wangerin imbues his tale with strong female characters and an earthy realism that gives the timeless Old Testament narrative so much power. You'll find echoes of contemporary issues throughout: deceit, heartbreak, loss, war, and, of course, the power of love. Naomi's combined strength and tenderness becomes the pivot upon which a nation turns; her decisions ultimately lead to the founding of the family lineage of Jesus Christ. Breathtaking descriptions, shocking violence, and inspirational courage make this spellbinding novel by a beloved award-winning author a story you won't soon forget. It's the perfect novel for your book group, and a satisfying read for those who love thoughtful biblical fiction. (Amazon)

Review source: I downloaded on kindle for free.

Plot: Wangerin imagines that the horrific story from Judges of the Levite’s concubine is also a part of Naomi’s story; in fact this woman is Naomi’s first “daughter.” This story makes up the first part of the book; subsequent parts deal with Boaz, and Naomi’s sojourn in Moab, with only the last section dealing with the familiar story of Ruth.

Characters: Naomi and Boaz are the two characters who appear throughout the book; Ruth appears only toward the end. I never felt like I really understood these characters, especially Boaz, who is borderline crazy and pretty scary in the first part of the book. Naomi is the best-realized character, but even with her, there is a remove. Perhaps it is a result of Wangerin reporting actions, but not entering the thoughts of the characters?

Writing style: Wangerin is one of those people who writes “literary” Christian fiction, and as such, I should like him, but I’ve never really warmed up to him. I really tried to read his best-known book, The Book of the Dun Cow, but just couldn’t get interested. I did read a non-fiction book of his on marriage, but that one and this one are the only two books of his that I’ve read. His style is spare and feels to me like it’s at an emotional remove (for the horrible events in this book, that may be a good thing). He intersperses Scripture regularly, so the style has to work with the biblical poetry, which it mostly does, though Wangerin does adapt some modern-sounding slang.

Audience: The description pretty much nails it: women who read novels based on biblical stories. Christian men would probably also enjoy the book, if they ever picked it up, since it’s anything but “mushy.” The problem with getting an audience for this kind of book is getting people to read it in the first place, since it’s based on the Bible. This isn’t the kind of book I typically read, so any rating I give is probably lower than someone who is in the target audience would give it.

Wrap-up: This isn’t the kind of book that one “enjoys.” Nonetheless, I did stay interested in it and want to finish it. I’m still not a huge Wangerin fan, but I know that there are plenty of them without me. 3.5/5*

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