Book 1 in The Canaan TrilogyA Book-of-the-Month Club, Doubleday Book Club, and Literary Guild SelectionReaders are fascinated with what Marek Halter calls "the feminine Bible" - the stories of the matriarchs, queens, and female prophets of the Scriptures. Now comes Sarah, the story of the Sumerian high priestess who gave up her exalted life to join Abram's tribe and follow the One True God. This acclaimed international bestseller is the first book of the extraordinary Canaan Trilogy.
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This book is an excellent example of historical fiction. It gives al ot of information in terms of various cultures, class systems, architecture, and the day to day life of the people during the building of the Jewish nation. There are many places, people, and events that a reader can research while reading this book. I am not a history buff so I cannot speak to the anachronisms. However, I want to address a few things:
1. Keep in mind this is historical FICTION. It is based on the life of Sarah; it is not the official document of Sarah's life. Because it is fiction, the artist is allowed to take liberties to move the plot along as well as add what he/she regards as beautiful.
2. The book is not an attempt to convert/strengthen someone's faith. If it does that, fine but the overall goal of Halter was not to do that. Had that been his goal, he would have stuck with a more traditional telling of Sarah's life. In fact, you can see strands of Judaism and Islam in the book, which isn't surprising as Halter has worked from a socio-political standpoint with various groups.
3. If reading complexities in Biblical characters such as doubt, fear, and even prejudices makes a piece of literature bad, well this book would be bad for you. Remember we don't have the everyday thoughts, words, and actions of anyone in print. So this also gives room for artistic license.
All in all this is a great book. Halter's goal was to reimagine the events of Abraham's life through his wife as she witnessed the building of a nation. He does a good job capturing the position that Sarah found herself in and most of what he describes has roots in the Old Testament: the fear that Sarai's beauty could be the death of Abram, her jealousy towards Hagar, her doubt at ever giving birth herself. What Halter is doing is showing the reader the various spaces that women occupied and yes it is confusing and almost schizophrenic but that was and, in many places,still is the way life is handed to women.
If you are looking for a feel good story that paints Sarah as a flat character, this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for a book that is making a statement on the lives of women in various areas of that time period for the Hebrew people with Sarah's life being somewhat of a focal point, read on. The entire time Abram's story is unfolding, Halter is asking "How might Sarai have felt?" and that is what sets this retelling apart.
The downside is that the beginning of the book seems to be more detailed than the ending chapters. Did he run out of steam? The story is very compelling 2/3 of the book and then the end seems quite rushed. Perhaps the book could have been longer or could have been a series to itself. It's not the best book ever written but it is creative, it draws on familiar territory, and focuses on the mother (who we seem to forget about) of the nation instead of the father.
Reviewed by Lyn