There seems to be a spate of religious historical novels being published about marginal biblical characters. Considering the paucity of details concerning the lives of these characters, they offer much grist for the imaginative writer’s mill.
In this debut novel, Stephanie Landsem takes a new look at the biblical story of the Samaritan woman at the well, the adulterous woman who meets Jesus and has her life instantly transformed. Landsem gives a name to the woman—Nava—and a voice, but the novel is not so much about her as it is about Nava’s daughter, Mara, a poor young woman who seems on course to mirror her mother’s dissolute life. At least, that is what her neighbors in the tiny Samaritan village of Sychar think of her: like mother, like daughter. But Mara is disgusted with her mother and is forced to take on the role of provider for Nava, her crippled younger brother Asher, and herself.
The arrivals of two strangers to Sychar create consternation in the village. One of them, a handsome and mysterious young man named Shem, comes to live with his grandfather and is immediately the target of every mother with a marriageable daughter. The other is an enigmatic rabbi named Jesus who meets Nava at the well, sees into her heart, and offers her forgiveness of her sins. Yet, the wheels of Jewish law, as interpreted by corrupt and jealous elders, turn against Nava and she is condemned to death by stoning. This is the turning point for both Mara and Shem, who embark together on a perilous journey to find Jesus. What they eventually find transforms each of their lives in completely unexpected ways.
This is an interesting and imaginative work; highly recommended.