Alabaster

Written by Chris Aslan
Review by Ann Chamberlin

Alabaster is the retelling of the biblical story of Mariam (Mary), sister to Marta (Martha) and Eleazar (Lazarus). She is the woman who anoints Jesus’s feet with spikenard from the alabaster jar. It is not clear, however—as it is not clear in the Bible, actually—that she is Mary Magdalene and/or the woman taken in adultery. Our heroine is not first at the tomb on Easter morning, and though there is a question of lost honor touted on the book’s cover, it has more to do with the (non-Biblical) addition that the father of these siblings gets leprosy by doing a charitable act, and that our heroine, in a hushed-up business, is raped and then forced to marry her attacker. I suppose, no more than millennia of commentators, could this author, currently studying for Anglican ordination, find a way to make prostitution sympathetic for a main character.

Having said this, the author’s vitae, which includes being born in Istanbul, growing up in Lebanon, and working for charitable organizations in rural Central Asia, stand him in excellent stead when it comes to creating atmosphere. I thank the author for so skillfully sharing these details with us. People slip off their sandals at the doorstep. The intricacies of recognizing a village full of veiled women as individuals are lovingly described. The mud that builds up as road-weary feet are washed rings so true as only someone who has lived it can tell. The events of faith—usually told in such retellings in such a heavy-handed way that nonbelievers are in no way stirred towards belief in the “teacher”—receive such a light-handed touch, appropriate to time and character, that we rejoice.