Tuesday, October 15, 2013
"Sisters of Lazarus: Beauty Unveiled" by Paula Parker
"Sisters of Lazarus: Beauty Unveiled" is about Mary and Martha and their struggles with issues of self-worth. The author often wondered why the sisters were at odds and the book opens with Mary tiptoeing into the house as she returns from market with a hand-mirror for herself instead of saffron for Martha. Beyond re-telling the Bible story, the book also shows that a woman's value to God does not lie in appearance or the value which we place on skills, accomplishments, possessions, or intellect.
This is an authentic tale by a lady who obviously loves Bible history and story telling. It's not the sort of book that keeps you riveted with twists and turns, as it's based on the familiar Bible stories featuring Lazarus and his two sisters, so therefore we know what to expect. For example, when we see the girls begging Jesus to come and heal their sick brother, we already know he's going to tarry until Lazarus is actually dead, so we don't have to stay glued to the pages. Writing this in the first paragraph isn't even a plot spoiler.
Having said that, there are a few nice little, surprising embellishments. Mary's wager with her friend, Leah, about finding a husband, and the history between Martha and her betrothed, Simon, was entirely made-up, as was their relationship to Nicodemus, but it's fun to imagine that it might have been this way.
The characters tend to be larger than life, and maybe a little overstated, which may also add a bit of fun to the story. For example, the trio's Uncle Joktan and his son, Abel, are typical pompous Pharisees. Judas might not have come across quite so sleazy in reality, but we're willing to go with it. The sisters themselves are presented like chalk and cheese. Mary is very beautiful, but a bit vain and coquettish, while Martha is plain and very domestic. For all we know, that first glimpse of them we have in the Bible may have been a particularly hectic, off-day for Martha, but this story has the girls at cross-purposes like that often. Still, that's exactly how it might have been for all we know.
I think the point is well made that, for all their apparent differences, the sisters are pretty much the same where it counts. Both are driven by low-self esteem and pride over what they see as their best assets.
Having Jesus as a character in a novel is a pretty bold move, when you think about it. In this story, it's interesting to see him from the point of view of people who start off not realising who he really is. I liked the way he came across. And it's great to see, first hand as it were, the wonderful impact his healings make on the loved-ones of those who were sick. That's one of the great things about writing stories as a novel. These are people like us, and not just ancient folk in the pages of scripture.
It's a book to convict in an amusing way, peppered with a bit of comedy. I liked it when Nicodemus and Lazarus were testing out the chairs which Lazarus bought on his merchant journeys, and they decided that being seated so high off the ground would take a bit of getting used to.
The way the household customs of women were woven within the story was also something I appreciated. For example, the baking of bread, with all its fiddliness and trickery. These household chores are made to sound like works of art, and it may good for us modern readers to see how our, "Let's get it out of the way" attitude may leave a bit to be desired. It's a very spicy, fragrant sort of story as we get the benefit of the exotic spices and fruit, such as cumin, saffron, dates, raisons and honey.
I received this book from Net Galley and Authentic Media in return for an honest review.
Sisters of Lazarus: Beauty Unveiled available from Amazon