Thursday, November 22, 2007
Jewish Historical Fiction
A while ago, I asked the readers of this blog for book recommendations. I've been slowly going through the list (not in order) and have found some real gems there.
One genre that seems to have caught my attention is Jewish Historical Fiction. I recently read two books that fit that genre and a third about a year ago -- and greatly enjoyed all three.
Chana recommended Sarah by Orson Scott Card. I was a bit wary of this choice. I loved Ender's Game, but felt the other three books in the series (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide and Children of the Mind) didn't quite measure up to Ender's Game. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised. It presents the story of Sarah in an interesting fashion, trying to fill in details that the Torah is silent on. For example, he has several chapters dedicated to the time that Sarah spent in Pharaoh's palace (he places her there for a year, something that I'm fairly certain most Jewish commentaries would deny). It also portrays her childhood and her first meetings with Abram and his family. Overall, it's an extremely well-written book.
However, as good as that was, I was blown away by the next book that I read, Rabbi Milton Steinberg's As A Driven Leaf, recommended by "Just Me." As A Driven Leaf is a historical look at the life of Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah, more commonly known as the heretic Acher. Rabbi Steinberg takes the historical sources and accounts about Acher and weaves them into a tragic tale of his life. Aside from the sympathetic light shown on the character and the intellectual struggles that he goes through, the book also gives the reader a very real sense of what daily life was like in Israel during the period of the Tana'aim. This was truly an excellent book.
About a year ago, a friend recommended James Michner's The Source. The Source is a series of short stories held together in a frame. The frame story centers around an archaeological dig at a tel in Israel known as Makor (the Source). The archaeological team digs through the tel and finds various artifacts from dates ranging from the Israeli War of Independence to over 9000 BCE. Michner then goes and tells the story of each artifact and how it ended up at the tel. I wasn't all that interested in the frame story (I didn't care which one of the archaeologists the girl ended up with), but I found the historical stories fascinating. It was quite interesting watching the society evolve from a simple stone-age cave dwellers, through pagan pantheism to the Judaism of the Patriarchal era and onward through the long history of the land of Israel and to see the differences in the daily lives of the characters over time.
In the end, I highly recommend all three books.
By the way, in case anyone hasn't noticed yet, you can keep track of what I'm reading. Thanks to Psychotoddler, I've become aware of Library Thing and have added it to my blog's sidebar. As I read new books (which happens very frequently), I'll add them to my library. Feel free to click on my library to see my comments on the books I've read.
Lastly, please feel free to recommend more books. :)
(Full disclosure: if you click on the links to Sarah or As A Driven Leaf, or any of the pictures in the Library Thing sidebar and buy something from Amazon, I earn a few cents.)