I don't read much Christian fiction, mostly because I tend to find the characters a bit hollow and one-sided, the stories wrapping up too cleanly to be believable. Yet, when Revell/Baker Publishing Group contacted me with an invitation to review Sarai by Jill Eileen Smith, I was intrigued. I hadn't read any biblical fiction before and I was curious how a novel about an actual biblical character would read.
I was skeptical about this telling of Sarai, especially in light of the ancient lands and unfamiliar culture the story is set in. I knew the biblical account of Sarai and Abram, but when the first few pages of the novel buzzed casually with terminology like ziggurat and lapis lazuli, introducing characters whose names I couldn't pronounce, I worried the cultural divide would either confuse or bore me with the excruciating detail of an ancient time and unfamiliar place.
It didn't take me long to realize that Jill Eileen Smith is a gifted writer with a true insight when it comes to reading between the lines of Scripture. She writes with a sensual familiarity of ancient biblical culture and a read on the conflicted nature within every human being. In the novel, she unravels the mystery behind Sarai's lifelong barenness, God's promises to Abram, Abram's nephew
Lot and his
self-dependence, and the difficulty of a long-suferring faith in Adonai amongst
the polytheistic culture of their time.
She beautifully details the human struggle for control in the midst of God's promises, the pain of infertility, the consequence of doubt, the jealous nature between women, the challenges of a nomadic lifestyle, and the nuances of a culture built on ritual and sacrifice, not to mention the redemption of it all by a mysterious but always-loving God. Ms. Smith paints a clear cultural setting but weaves this more as a heart-gripping romance than a history book, while still remaining true to the biblical account. I admire the way she can expand upon the existing story without much speculation, without adding significant plot lines, rather imaginatively painting the story for what it already is.
I'd highly recommend Sarai and I'll surely be on the lookout for other books in her Wives of the Patriarchs and Wives of King David series. Keep your eyes open for Sarai to hit bookstore shelves – it releases tomorrow on Amazon.com, but you can preorder now through the links above.
Sarai is available March 2012 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I received this book free from Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.