My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I loved this book. A caution may be well-given: If you do not like any kind of alternate reality applied to Biblical figures, particularly those of the patriarchal and heroic persuasion, you might want to give this one a pass. I see that some reviewers did not care for this version of Dinah and the destruction of Shechem mainly because it does not follow the Biblical version, but also because it casts the heroic Jacob and his sons in a decidedly dishonorable and ignoble light.
It may be important to know that I do not consider the Christian Bible to be the literal word of God or word-for-word fact. I do believe in freedom of religion, absolutely, and see the beauty and the similarities across many different faiths. I consider holy books to be myths, interpretations written by human beings, who all have unique experiences with the divine and, consequently, different interpretations of spiritual matters.
When we also remember that “the winners write the history books,” history, whether Biblical or not, becomes a rich vein to mine for fictional purposes. I am really only particular about accurate context. If a writer puts a shower into a 1920’s tenement apartment, I’ll stop reading the book as being poorly researched. But by all means, play fast and loose with who-said-what and other perceptual matters all you like. That’s why it’s called fiction.
And what historical fiction this is! I regret that it took me this long to finally read it. It is full-bodied and lush and one of the most engrossing historical novels I have ever read, placed in a time not often visited. Dinah and her mothers, Rachel and Leah, Zilpah and Bilhah, are fleshed-out real women, with Rachel and Leah displaying the power they held as wives of status. The gods and goddesses were very much present. I could see the shadow of Anubis, waiting in the corner of a birthing room washed in despair. I heard the malformed god Bes, laughing with delight as he watched over the children playing. I loved the superstitions and magic that were part of daily life, such as dropping a piece of rue and some bread to ensure a quick return home. I loved the community of women, the mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts and grandmothers who retreated to the feminine sanctity of the red tent during the dark of every moon, sharing love and lore and history. I felt immersed in the culture, as if I really had traveled back to Canaan two thousand years ago.
“[M]y mother and aunties spun a sticky web of loyalties and grudges. They traded secrets like bracelets. They told me things I was too young to hear. They held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember. “