Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: Love Amid The Ashes


Love Amid The Ashes
Mesu Andrews
Baker/Revell 2011

An epic story of love and forgiveness, suffering and restoration

When her beloved grandfather Isaac dies, Dinah must follow his final command: travel to Job’s household to marry his son. After Job’s world comes crashing down, Dinah finds herself drawn to this great man brought low. What will she risk to fight for his survival?



Review:

I’ve read the Biblical account of Job many times, but after reading Mesu Andrews’s Love Amid the Ashes, I’ll never read it the same way again. Nor will I ever skim over Dinah’s name in the Genesis account without feeling deeply the pain and shame she must have suffered, whatever was the truth of her feelings toward Shechem, the prince who wanted to marry her, and whom her brothers murdered.

I first heard of Love Amid the Ashes through a review by Ruth at Booktalk & More, and was instantly intrigued by the premise--the entwining of Job’s and Dinah’s lives and stories. It had never occurred to me that these two people walked the earth at the same time, the time of the Jewish Patriarchs, or had any part in the others life. There’s a very good reason why Mesu Andrews conceived of this story, but more about that later in this review.

Even such an intriguing premise would not have held my attention if the execution of it was weak, but Love Amid The Ashes hooked me in the first chapter, seen from Dinah’s point of view, in the tent camp of her father, Jacob. We first meet Job from her point view as well, as a man who has come forward to offer his eldest son as a husband for the outcast and scorned Dinah. His compassion for Dinah, and his ability to see her through the eyes of a forgiving father, was immediately endearing to me as well as to Dinah, who comes to respect and love him as her future father-in-law.

Dinah’s journey from shame and living under the stigma of her past with Shechem, to an understanding of who she is in God’s sight, is a triumph of grace and faith and spirit. Dinah was a woman of strength and faithfulness who, though badly wounded by the scorn of those who saw her as tainted, had the heart of a servant, first for her ailing grandfather, Isaac, then for Job in his long months of suffering.

Job’s journey through the greatest loss and suffering imaginable is well known from scripture, and Mesu Andrews doesn’t shrink from holding true to the Biblical account. Experiencing these sufferings from Job’s point of view was wrenching at times, but ultimately builds great compassion and sympathy for the man that has lasted long after I finished reading the story. Love Amid the Ashes has knit my heart with this great man's down all these thousands of years. To Dinah as well, though the truth of her story is less well known.

Both Job and Dinah take on flesh and blood, passion and heart, in the pages of this novel, but the secondary characters, some historical, some not, pull their story weight admirably. There’s Dinah’s faithful Cushite handmaid, Nogahla, Job’s wife, Sitis. Her childhood friend turned merchant turned neighbor, Sayyid. Sayyid’s enigmatic captain, Aban. Elihu, Job’s prized student, who intended to marry his youngest daughter. There’s Jacob’s red mountain of a brother, Esau, and Job’s friends we know from scripture, who come to comfort him and fail miserably at the job. All play vibrant roles in the story, some for good, some for evil, some a little of both. Although it’s clear from scripture that Job’s suffering came straight from Satan’s hand, in Love Amid the Ashes, Satan has a “little helper” on earth in the form of a flesh and blood nemesis who eagerly twists the knife of Job’s suffering, and that of his wife’s, more deeply still, adding intrigue and suspense to an already wrenching story. It’s the secondary characters, and my lack of knowledge of Dinah’s (possible) outcome, that made me uncertain just how this story would end.

Forgiveness, faith, the whys of suffering, the sovereignty of God, and the goodness of God, are all themes explored in Love Amid the Ashes. Overall an impressive debut novel, powerful and heart-wrenching, ultimately heart-warming, especially with a twist at the end that was hinted at, and I’d hoped we would get to see—and Mesu Andrews didn’t disappoint. 

The only weakness: descriptions were sometimes more vague than I’d have wished for. A clearer picture of some of these almost fantastic settings, based on the rock city of Petra, which I’ve only seen in photos and through the eyes of an Israeli friend who guided tours there for many years (his photos accompany this review), would have been welcome. But the most important aspect of any fiction genre, compelling storytelling, is something Mesu Andrews has, in my opinion, already mastered. I’ll be waiting eagerly for her next offering. 

The Siq, entrance to Job's city of Uz

Job's city of Uz
A few more notes:

~ the generational flow chart at the start of the novel is much appreciated, though I had no trouble keeping all the secondary and minor characters straight.

~ the scripture passage at the head of each chapter lent gravitas and pathos to both the story and the scripture.

~ the author's note at the end of the book explains how she developed the story. I was surprised to find that elements I assumed were fictional have some basis in historical fact. Mesu Andrews's research is impressive. I learned quite a bit, while being entertained, and feel the richer for it.

~ Love Amid the Ashes has one of the most beautiful covers I've seen lately. Good work, Revell design team. Click on the cover for a full sized view. Just gorgeous!

~ I've reviewed this novel without any prompting or compensation by anyone or their publisher. :-)

~ Photos of Petra by Netanel Nickalls, used by permission.

Visit Mesu Andrews' website

Read the first chapter of Love Amid the Ashes

8 comments:

  1. Oh, WONDERFUL review, Lori! I'm so, so happy you enjoyed this book as well (and thanks for the link!). I just loved seeing those pictures of Petra too - what a great visual "aide" for this story!

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  2. What an interesting premise. Especially interesting that the author decided to tie Dinah and Job together in the same time period. I've always viewed Job as a book out of time; it's the only OT book with no clear place in the historic chronology. I have sometimes wondered if it was meant to be a fable. Certainly it's written like a morality play.

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  3. Or perhaps morality plays are written like the book of Job? :) I don't have the book in front of me at the moment, but the author does site several other historical and traditional Jewish sources, apart from the Old Testament, that link the real Job to the real Dinah.

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  4. Ah. I thought she just invented that connection for plot purposes. I don't recall ever seeing anything in the OT to suggest they existed in the same time period, much less that they knew each other, but if it's true, how very intriguing. I'd be curious to know what her other sources were. She didn't by any chance include a bibliography, did she?

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  5. What a wonderful and thorough review, Lori. I'm very interesting in reading this now. I love the photos you included too.

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  6. Beth, not a bibliography, but she does mention several works and avenues of research in her extensive author's note. My copy isn't here now or I'd list them. I was surprised too that some story elements I thought were purely fiction are based on historical plausibility. The whole premise hooked me before I ever read a word of the story.

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  7. Hi there! If you liked Mesu Andrews' "Love's Sacred Song" or "Love Amid the Ashes" you'll love her new book "Love in a Broken Vessel." Check out her book trailer and promotional giveaway celebrating the book's upcoming release! http://www.mesuandrews.com/contests

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    1. Sorry Emily. Your link still isn't working (you posted this exact reply once already on another of my posts). All I get is a Page not Found error.

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