Wednesday, April 13, 2016

'Miriam' by Mesu Andrews

Genre: Biblical, historical fiction, Christian fiction

The Hebrews call me prophetess, the Egyptians a seer.
But I am neither. I am simply a watcher of Israel
and the messenger of El Shaddai.
When He speaks to me in dreams, I interpret. When He whispers a melody, I sing.

At eighty-six, Miriam had devoted her entire life to loving El Shaddai and serving His people as both midwife and messenger. Yet when her brother Moses returns to Egypt from exile, he brings a disruptive message. God has a new name – Yahweh – and has declared a radical deliverance for the Israelites.

 Miriam and her beloved family face an impossible choice: cling to familiar bondage or embrace uncharted freedom at an unimaginable cost. Even if the Hebrews survive the plagues set to turn the Nile to blood and unleash a maelstrom of frogs and locusts, can they weather the resulting fury of the Pharaoh?

Enter an exotic land where a cruel Pharaoh reigns, pagan priests wield black arts, and the Israelites cry out to a God they only think they know.

This is a story about one family's attempts to weather the plagues of Egypt, but it's not just any family. It's a well-known Biblical family, including Miriam the prophetess, her brothers, parents and nephew. Since it's easy to think of them as holy and intimidating, I loved this glimpse into their more human sides, and the confused questions which teemed through their minds. One of the main ones happens to be, 'Okay, how do we communicate with an invisible God anyway?'

I enjoyed seeing Moses as the humble and courteous house guest who amazes his family whenever he admits that he's clueless about God's intentions and indignant about his seemingly outrageous demands. He even declares outright that given the choice, he'd rather not be anywhere near there. It's a really thought-provoking portrayal for anybody who assumes that a person's calling is bound to involve something pleasurable which he looks forward to. Moses even rolls up his sleeves to help with the most menial cleaning jobs for his hosts. Good on him.

What captured me most about Miriam's position is the grief she experiences when it becomes clear that her God has taken away the prophetic insights she'd experienced all her life. It's evident to the reader that this has nothing to do with Miriam falling short in any way. It's just that her season for receiving prophetic pictures is over, and God is now doing something different with her brothers as his new instruments. However, I can't help wondering whether I would take it personally in a similar way if I was in Miriam's shoes. It seems natural to take such a loss on board as a chastisement, wondering whether it's your own fault, and feeling envious of the others, rather than simply acknowledging that a precious phase is simply over. (But then, I think I'd look at the burden Moses carried and forget all about envy.)

I found Eleazar the most easy main character to relate to. You might remember him from the Bible as Aaron's third son. At this stage of his life, he serves as personal guard to Ram, one of the Egyptian princes, and the ultimate bad boss. Eleazar is a straightforward guy who never considers himself to be spiritual. His biggest fear is finding himself in situations where he's helpless to protect his loved ones. Of course these can occur at any moment when you work in a court where someone's head can be cut off at a whim.

There are a couple of nice romance threads for those who enjoy them. I don't usually like stories when men pull back from their wives, but in Eleazar's case I can definitely understand why! Just the same, there's a good deal of 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' types of misunderstandings between him and Taliah. Judging by these two, it would seem Professor John Gray's book would have even been valid for those in ancient Egpyt. And Miriam has a romance of her own, in her eighties. Still, she and brothers come across as if they're in their sixties, while Eleazar, in his forties, seems like a fit young guy in his twenties. He really needs that athleticism in his workplace, that's for sure!

I preferred this book to its predecessor in the Treasures of the Nile series, The Pharoah's Daughter. I'm guessing there will be one more novel to make it a trilogy, and that it will take place during the wilderness wanderings. But I wonder who the main characters will be. This novel was chunky enough to take me a fortnight to read, and although I knew what was coming all the way through, there were still enough twists and surprises in this version to keep me hooked. I thought Mesu Andrews did a fantastic job and deserves full marks.

Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah and Blogging for Books, for giving me a copy through NetGalley.

5 stars

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