A woman in first-century Palestine struggles to adapt, flourish, and find love and meaning.
This quasi-historical novel tells the story of Danya, who grows up in Nazareth during tumultuous times in Roman-occupied Palestine. Jewish rebels like her brother Lev fight to liberate their “sad, beautiful land,” impoverished by Roman taxation, while more prosperous Jews acquiesce. When the Romans seek retribution after a Jewish raid that the 13-year-old, self-educated Danya wanted to join, her father moves the family to Jerusalem to stay with her half brother, Chuza, for safety. After a Jewish uprising at the Temple Mount and a subsequent massacre by Roman forces, a Roman soldier kills Danya’s innocent father. Fourteen-year-old Danya is married off to an old Jewish priest, Tobiah, although she’s in love with a younger Jewish rebel, the real-life Judah ben Hezekiah, a “red-haired, roughly dressed leader of men.” She grows to love her conservative, aristocratic husband and bears him three children, suppressing her rebel sympathies in deference to his reluctant acceptance of Roman rule. When Tobiah dies unexpectedly, his estate goes to their oldest son, still a youth. Danya’s “avaricious, lustful, scheming” half brother plots to take advantage of the widow and her son and marry her teenage daughter. Along the way, Yeshua, the historical Jesus, and Miryam, his mother, intersect with Danya and her family. Thoroughly researched and perceptively written, this novel mainly presents interior relationships and feelings. Still, McGivern (Language Stories: Teaching Language to Developmentally Disabled Children, 1978) gives a convincing account of how families might have lived in first-century Palestine and of the troubling physical and psychological adjustments necessary for survival and in which practical considerations displace idealistic dreams. The author skillfully interweaves the lives of fictional and real-life characters to spin a convincing yarn and refrains from making the young Jesus too pious. The book succeeds in unearthing the Jewish roots of Christianity, embodied in the character of Danya, who is advised by Miryam to “act with love and compassion and justice.”
A quietly effective novel that believably portrays Jewish life under Roman rule, the seeds of Christianity, and a woman’s battles for survival.