Posts Tagged ‘religion’

The 19th Wife – Book Review

May 23, 2008

19th Wife cover LT BirdThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Release date: August 5, 2008

David Ebershoff’s “The 19th Wife” appears at first to be a daunting novel, weighing in at close to 600 pages, including the author’s note in the beginning.  I admit to cringing when I saw the size, sure that it would be awhile before I would get to any of my other books.

How happy I was to find out I was mistaken!  This book was so enjoyable that I read it in little more than 48 hours, sneaking a page here or there whenever possible.

“The 19th Wife” is a multi-time period story dealing with the legacy of polygamy in Mormonism and Morman fundamentalism.  The main characters are Jordan Scott – a young man kicked out at 14 years old of a polygamous community in Utah calling itself “First Latter Day Saints” for holding his stepsister’s hand – and Eliza Ann Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young turned moral crusader against polygamy.  Like Eliza Ann, Jordan’s mother is also a 19th wife.  Jordan is drawn back to Utah and back in contact with “The Firsts” when his mother is accused of murdering his father.

I have never read a book quite like this, historical fiction mixed with a present-day murder mystery.  I imagine that in a lot of cases, such an attempt would fail miserably.  With “The 19th Wife,” however, pulls it off brilliantly.  Mixed in with the two stories, Ebershoff included “documents” such as Wikipedia articles and requests for permission to research in LDS Church archives, as well as letters or memoirs of other historical figures and a thesis paper.  Instead of breaking up the action, this seems a clever way to impart to the reader information that neither first person narrator should have.

Although I was slightly disappointed at the way the murder mystery wrapped up in the present-day story thread, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I loved the concept, I was ecstatic that the author saw fit to include a “what’s true, what’s not true” note at the end of his book – why don’t more authors of historical fiction do this, by the way? – and I enjoyed both the story and the writing.  I will be on the lookout for this Ebershoff’s previous and future works.

Buy this book on Amazon

Historical Genesis – Book Review

April 23, 2008

Historical Genesis: From Adam to Abraham
Author: Richard James Fischer
Publisher: University Press of America
Published March 2008
Reviewed by Jen Cardwell for Reader Views 04/08

The Science of Genesis

4 Stars

Historical Genesis coverWas there a real man named Adam? What is the location of the Garden of Eden? Who is Cain worried will kill him after he kills his brother, if Adam’s family are the only people on Earth? How could Noah and his sons have repopulated the earth in the time since the flood? How would they have even gotten all the animals of the world onto their ark? And how would the animals have gotten back to places like Australia and the Americas with time for evolution into different species?

Questions like this are asked over and over by people questioning the Biblical account of Genesis and creation. The stories of Adam, the flood, and the tower of Babel tend to be considered mere allegory, if not dismissed outright as a story cribbed from other, older creation stories. The other option is for a literal, traditionalist interpretation: Adam was the first man, the flood covered the entire world, all post-flood people spoke a single language until that debacle at the tower of Babel.

Richard James Fischer believes there is a fourth, more correct option. In an attempt to reconcile the Biblical record with the historical record, Fischer comes up with an extremely interesting hypothesis: Genesis is literally about southern Mesopotamia. Essentially, Genesis 2-11 is the story not of the world, but of the Jewish people and their origins. This is not to say that he claims that Genesis 1 is not the creation of the universe and the world. He in fact makes no claims at all about Genesis 1, his entire analysis is of Genesis 2-11.

Although I took a number of religious studies classes in college, I am not a Biblical scholar by any means. I have never made an exhaustive study of Genesis in the ancient Hebrew, nor do I know any ancient Hebrew at all, other than the bits Fischer taught me in “Historical Genesis”. Neither can I speak with real authority to the veracity of statements about pottery types and flood layers, kings lists and linguistic similarities between the names Ziusudra and Noah. I can say, however, that I felt that I knew far more about the scientific basis for placing the events of Genesis in Mesopotamia and the cultural implications of many parts of the creation and flood stories.

“Historical Genesis” has a very easy style for a book packed with so much scholarly research. The author and editors wisely chose to impart information under short subheadings in relatively short chapters. This kept the pace moving, and kept me from getting bogged down in nearly incomprehensible (to me) discussions about the differences in pottery in different layers at Eridu.

This book would be fantastic for a religious studies or seminary course on Genesis. Readers should have some familiarity both with the story itself as well as with some basic principles of anthropology and linguistics, if not being read in a class, or with some similar type of support system. I would highly recommend this book for any interested in the accounts in the book of Genesis. Whether you agree with him or not, Fischer’s book will make you think.

Buy this book on Amazon: Historical Genesis: from Adam to Abraham

Sacred History of Britain – Book Review

March 28, 2008

Sacred History of Britain CoverI found The Sacred History of Britain by Martin Palmer on the discount table at Half Price Books for $5. Sometimes there is a good reason that books are on the discount table, but I decided to give it a chance anyway. Religion? British history? A bargain? Count me in!

I am very glad that I gave this book a chance, as it was quite intriguing. In all seriousness, it was a very interesting book. As the title perhaps implies, Palmer traces the idea of the ‘sacred’ from British prehistory, by use of archeology through the advent of Christianity in the isles up to the present day panoply of religions in Britain (including the profusion of Christian sects).

I really appreciated Palmer’s evenhandedness on this subject. He is a Christian, I would guess an Anglican from the work, and he sets out that fact from the beginning of the book so that you can be aware of any possible bias. He was more than willing, however, to be candid about issues the church has had with corruption, etc. He seemed to try very hard to divorce his personal emotions regarding the church from this work. He was almost poetic about some of his experiences with sacred places in Britain, yet he de-romanticized everything from pre-historic religion to the Reformation.

Palmer is a great writer who kept the history interesting and kept the pace of the book moving. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest either in the history of religion or in the history of Britain. Secular history buffs won’t feel preached at and should enjoy a different perspective on British history.

Buy this book on Amazon:The Sacred History of Britain: Landscape, Myth & Power:The Forces That Have Shaped Britain’s Spirituality