A Refreshingly Humanistic View of the Biblical Mary, Joseph and Jesus, June 26, 2007
By Grady Harp (Los Angeles, CA United States)
In his third novel Loren Woodson takes a lot of chances, both conceptually and technically, in writing a novel about characters so well known to the public: not only are his story and characters part of the fabric of religious beliefs, they are also icons, and to 're-tell' as though his story is another of the gospels takes courage and requires extensive research. Woodson has both prerequisites. He has obviously spent years studying the architecture, landscape, foods, clothing, political hotbeds, religious factions, and language, and that depth of research allows his novel to be read as credible fact. And while many other authors have explored this touchy region of history (from Kazantzakis' "The Last Temptation of Christ" to the current run of novels such as Juan Gomez-Jurado's "God's Spy", Javier Sierra's "The Secret Supper" and yes, Dan Brown's " The Da Vinci Code"), those authors challenged centuries old concepts while Woodson simply offers another version of the life of the 'Holy Family.'
Maryam (Mary) is a humble girl who seeks understanding of her faith. In sad circumstances she is raped by a foul man while tending to her abused friends and the rape results in a pregnancy. One simple man, a construction worker by the name of Yosef (Joseph), takes pity on her, nurses her to health, and eventually asks Maryam to marry him: her illegitimate pregnancy does not dissuade his feelings or intentions. Maryam gives painful birth to a strange child, Yeshua (Jesus), who has difficulty suckling at Maryam's breast and who stares inquisitively into his mother's eyes. As this firstborn child matures, he relates strongly to his father, leaning his trade, and gradually shows signs of being at times a difficult child and an angry child, apparently obsessed with Satan, then with the inequities of the government, and finally going off as a young man into periods of meditation and alignment with one John the Immerser. The concept of virgin birth gives way to human conception that through credible events produces a 'chosen one.' And yes, through all of this Maryam plays a significant role, allowing the reader to understand the changes that are occurring in this bastard child who becomes a healer and eventually a martyr who influences the development of new religious belief.
Woodson's narrative follows the path of the Gospels as far as time line and places and the changes in Roman government and it is quite apparent that his focus is to restore the importance of the person of Mary (and indeed all women) in the Biblical stories. He succeeds: Maryam holds our compassion and our interest as a woman of simple beginnings, but also a woman of great intelligence and wisdom. If there is a problem with Woodson's compelling novel, that 'problem' lies in his insistence on using Aramaic spellings and terms in place of contemporary vocabulary, a technique that while fascinating and requiring frequent references to a fine dictionary/glossary in the back of the book, does indeed slow the reader's attention at even the most important moments. For this reader the novel would have benefited from perhaps only occasional use of such terms, but keeping the story flowing with less cumbersome language.
Woodson captures the atmosphere and the tenuous daily progression of life of the areas of land where this 2000-year-old story takes place. His writing is poetically charged, highly intelligent, and contains that most important aspect of storytelling - compulsive page turning! And if his technical choices impair the fluidity of his narrative, in the end they do not impede the satisfaction gained from reading this fine book. Grady Harp, June 07
The Passion of Maryam
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