Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Handmaid and The Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Random House, 2006
  • Price: $17.95
  • ISBN-10: 1400065380
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065387

I was pleased to come across an Elizabeth Berg novel in a Christian bookstore, shopping for gifts appropriate to the holiday season. Prior to spotting this novel, I had thought of Berg only as a "secular" novelist, albeit a good one, and to find this familiar name among Christian literature seemed a bonus.

The topic is, of course, as old as Christianity. How to write it new and fresh? I chose the novel as a gift for a young niece who enjoys reading and is currently in a place of spiritual seeking - and how refreshing to find such literary treasure at this season increasingly becoming known for anything but the spiritual. Would Berg succeed? I had time enough before wrapping to read the book myself, and I did so in a day, intrigued.

It is not about the child born to Mary, not nearly as much as it is the tender love story between Mary and Joseph. Woven into the well known spiritual tale was a pleasing human element: the vulnerability of love, the flush of romance, the fears and insecurities of opening a very human heart to another, along with the very understandable doubts and questioning when faced with events only a divine intervention could explain away. Berg succeeds on these fronts. The tale becomes a pleasing literary backdrop to the story we know in the gospels. Mary is the strong woman with independent spirit that we would expect her to be; Joseph is the devoted and loving husband he would have to be to stand beside her, quite human in his occasional wondering about the story he must accept if he is to accept her as his wife - his doubts are ever so human, his overcoming those doubts ever so faithful.

Berg's novel won't stand alongside some of the great Christian-themed tomes such as the Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain or Exodus by Leon Uris. But for a young woman looking to relate to a love in pure heart and pure spirit, tender with inspiration, adding humanity to the divine, Berg's novel is just right, perhaps leading a reader towards deeper reads such as the aforementioned.

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