But I am neither. I am simply a watcher of Israel
and the messenger of El Shaddai.
When He speaks to me in dreams, I interpret. When He whispers a melody, I sing.At eighty-six, Miriam had devoted her entire life to loving El Shaddai and serving His people as both midwife and messenger. Yet when her brother Moses returns to Egypt from exile, he brings a disruptive message. God has a new name – Yahweh – and has declared a radical deliverance for the Israelites.Miriam and her beloved family face an impossible choice: cling to familiar bondage or embrace uncharted freedom at an unimaginable cost. Even if the Hebrews survive the plagues set to turn the Nile to blood and unleash a maelstrom of frogs and locusts, can they weather the resulting fury of the Pharaoh?
Enter an exotic land where a cruel Pharaoh reigns, pagan priests wield black arts, and the Israelites cry out to a God they only think they know. (from the back cover)
I came to this novel not knowing what to expect, having not read a biblical retelling in many years, and never having read anything by Mesu Andrews. And what she has done with this story is wonderful. Using Miriam as the main character and including others who were barely mentioned, this is a very interesting new take on the story of the Israelites and their Exodus from Egypt.
Now, this isn’t to say that I didn’t have my issues with the novel. Most of which were resolved once I was able to see a finished copy from my library (the version I read was an Advance Reader Copy). My primary issues, though, were language use seeming too modern and complex at times and with the characterization of Miriam as a prophetess with almost a running conversation with “her” El-Shaddai (God) who becomes resentful, jealous, and petty when she feels supplanted by her returning younger brother. This was believable but difficult to reconcile. A lesser issue was the one-dimensional nature of some secondary and tertiary characters.
When Moses returns he is a veritable stranger to her, and brings some revelations that seem a bit radical to Miriam (such as a new name for her El-Shaddai), but to the reader he seems very real and very human. This aspect of the story was handled so well by the author, that Moses does not take over the story. It remains firmly Miriam’s.
The sub-plot of Miriam’s nephew Eleazar, a royal guard, and Taliah, a young woman who comes under his protection, added interest and another perspective to the story. It is through Eleazar that the reader sees the engrained, callous cruelty of the Egyptian court along with some of the reactions and repercussions of Moses’ audiences and the ten plagues.
As a fleshed-out imagining of the Exodus, this is an interesting read. As a story of an older woman struggling to come to terms with changes that are beyond her control, and the loss of a presence she took for granted in her life, it is possibly even more interesting. Definitely one I will be keeping on my shelf for a future re-read (though I might opt to get a finished copy, though it tickled me to see the copy-editors note on p.305 regarding a possible contradiction).
Recommended for those who enjoy biblical retellings, especially those that focus on the less well-known participants in the story. 3.5/5 stars.
Miriam, A Treasures of the Nile Novel by Mesu Andrews | Waterbrook Press, March 15, 2016 | 384 pages, Trade Paperback
This review refers to an Advance Reading Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.