Monday, May 24, 2010

The Garden of Ruth by Eva Etzioni-Halevy - 293 pgs

Book CoverIn this work of Biblical fiction, a young woman named Osnath, who is also the niece of the prophet Samuel, arrives in Bethlehem. Upon perusing the scroll room belonging to the relatives she is visiting, she discovers a scrap of parchment with a most interesting love poem written upon it. As Osnath soon discovers, this parchment is only a fragment of the life story of Ruth, who became the wife of Boaz and was the great-grandmother of the man known as King David. While trying to uncover more of the parchment scraps that tell Ruth's story, Osnath discovers that Ruth, a woman highly esteemed for her piety and grace, had once been caught in the throes of an illicit relationship with a man other than her husband. But as Osnath begins to dig for more clues into Ruth's life, she comes to arouse the suspicion and anger of Ruth's great-grandson Eliab, who is desperate to keep his ancestor's reputation from being tarnished. Osnath, trying frantically to uncover more information about this tantalizing story, becomes genuinely surprised when she finds her feelings of disgust for Elaib turning into feelings of desire. Now Osnath must reconcile both Ruth's past and her present to finally restore harmony to her life. In this surprising and evocative story, Etzioni-Halevy takes one of the most famous stories in the bible and turns it in fresh and unexpected direction.

About a year and a half ago, I had the pleasure of reading my first book by Eva Etzioni-Hallevy. It was called The Song of Deborah and I had a great time with it. When the author contacted me about reviewing one of her other works, I was very excited to see what her other stories might have to offer me. I was greatly pleased with this book and ended up being very satisfied with its story. I think this was perhaps my favorite of the stories I have tried from this author and am excited that she has another book out for me to enjoy as well.

Though this book ostensibly had two stories woven into one, the story involving Osnath was the principal focus. Osnath was a very headstrong young girl at the beginning of the tale, and only as the story progresses do her attitudes and behaviors begin to change. From the outset, she is extremely caught up in the search for Ruth's tale and it seems that she will do almost anything to discover the truth surrounding it, even if it means angering everyone around her. I found her diligence to have a curious effect on me. I also wanted her to find out Ruth's tale and was invested in her search, but I thought that she sometimes came off as a little brazen in her tactics. As she struggles to worm her way into the scroll room, she seems to be making enemies all along the way, but surprisingly, the people she is offending offer her friendship and, in one case, love.

Osnath also has to contend with the desires of her heart. At her first meeting with Elaib, she discovers him to be crude and coarse and really wants to have nothing to do with him. After a flagrant affront takes place between the two, Osnath's heart is set against Eliab in the most heated of ways. She will never love this man and will learn to live around him. Instead, she prefers David, a starry-eyed youth who spins endearments from thin air, much to Osnath's delight. As the story begins to take shape, Osnath's feelings for David become tangled by the deeds he commits and she is left feeling exploited and rebuffed. In anger, Osnath wishes to leave Bethlehem after she uncovers Ruth's story, feeling that her time in the city fits only that purpose and no more. Surprisingly, Osnath begins to discover that there is more to Eliab than she once thought, a revelation that seems to come a little too late, forcing Osnath into a position of suffering that breaks her body and spirit. The only way to reconcile her situation is to do the unthinkable, which for Osnath, is a tough order indeed.

Towards the middle of the book, Osnath's persistence pays off and she is rewarded with Ruth's story in all its sordid detail. This section prompted me to perk up while reading, for the story of Ruth and Boaz has always been a favorite of mine. This book takes a slightly different direction with the story and tells the fictional tale of the man who seduces Ruth immediately after her first husband dies. I really liked Ruth and found her humble yet knowing. In this tale, she was placed in a very difficult situation and had only her wits and character to pull her through it. These passages were evocative and humble, painting a vast and far-reaching picture of the trials that Ruth faced. I must admit that these sections were my favorite parts of the book and I hungered to hear more about Ruth and her situation. She was a winning character, filled with shame at her situation but strong enough to do what was required of her.

In the end, the story of Ruth is revealed in its complete form, as is the tale of Osnath and her difficult road to maturity. The two sections of the book dovetailed at the end, and despite the trials that the two women faced, they are able to find a happiness that stretches across generations. Though Ruth and Osnath were very different women, I was happy to see their lives reconciled and their fates sealed, so for me, the story came full circle in a wonderful way.

If you are the type of reader who enjoys biblical fiction, then this book is probably something that you would enjoy. The author takes great pains in fully realizing her characters and the dramas they face, so this novel would also be of interest to those who love character driven books. Though there are certain liberties taken with the tale of Ruth, I think that in this case, they were very well done and believable and they gave the story a profound sense of drama and insight. The complexities of the two stories being interwoven was also done with a lot of style, making this a very pleasant reading experience.

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Sounds jolly good... I always think that the Old Testament has the best stories of any book and so I suppose that novels like this are an extention of that idea. Sounds like an interesting account of reputation as well.

thanks indeed for sharing


Suko said...

I've mentioned to you before (I think) that I haven't read much biblical fiction, but this sounds very engaging. Thanks for another terrific review. I'm sure Etzioni-Hallevy appreciates the time and detail you put into it.

Aarti said...

I don't think this is my sort of book, being so religious in nature, but I am so glad all those Biblical books you've read recently have been good! I think it would add great depth and dimensions to the story that perhaps the straight history of the Bible can't provide.

Sandy Nawrot said...

You know, I'm not sure if I like biblical fiction! I don't think I've ever read anything falling under that category. But I have read the Bible and it has alot of good material in which to spin a fictional novel. Ruth is a great place to start!

Darlene said...

Great review Heather! I have this one in my book piles somewhere and I'm looking forward to it. I really enjoyed The Triumph of Deborah and I do like reading good biblical fiction sometimes.

Literary Feline said...

It took me years to work up the motivation to read The Red Tent. I tend to shy away from Biblical fiction in general, but I admit to having an interest in the women of the Bible. I am glad you enjoyed this one, Heather!

Marie Cloutier said...

I read another book of hers and this sounds very similar. Great review! :-)

Lisa said...

I think the only Biblical fiction I have read is The Red Tent but there are certainly a lot of great stories in the Bible that could be expanded upon. Sounds like you've found an author that does a great job of doing just that.

Unknown said...

Great review! I read the first one, and liked a lot about it, so I'm glad you like this even more.

Btw, I saw your comment at S.Krishna's review of Adoration of Jenna Fox. I don't know how old your daughter is, but my 6th grader did enjoy it. I wouldn't go much younger, but 6th - high school would.

also at

Cath said...

This book sounds a lot like The Red Tent, and I loooooooved the Red Tent, even though I am not a super-religious person. I'm going to give this a try!

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