A slow-moving but well-written tale embroidering the life of one of Scripture’s most charismatic figures.

THE WIFE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

This reimagining of John the Baptist’s life gives the itinerate prophet a Greek wife who desperately wants him to avert his dark destiny.

The Bible doesn’t mention a wife for the locust-and-honey-eating forerunner of the Christian savior, but as the titular wife here reasonably explains: “A woman, in those days, was not counted. So even after we were married, people continued to say that John lived alone in the wilderness.” Hessa, who narrates the novel, tells of growing up “in Decapolis, south of the Sea of Galilee and west of the Jordan River, during the time when Judea was a Roman province.” K.’s (The Concubine’s Gift, 2011) vivid writing engagingly depicts the ancient Middle East, describing “Phoenician traders from the sea coast, jewelers from Jerusalem, fine pottery merchants from Greece, lumber dealers from Syria and even magicians from Egypt.” In a touch of magical realism, her merchant father values her ability to tell an object’s history simply by holding it. Though he wants her to marry abroad to solidify his trading connections, her latent adventurousness makes her hesitant to marry at all, until one day in the marketplace she meets a man with “the beautiful, dark eyes of a wild girl.” When she touches John’s hand she knows he fears neither poverty nor death. They marry against her father’s wishes and wander south together along the banks of the Jordan, living in a goatskin tent. Theirs is a Song of Solomon kind of marital bliss, yet Hessa fears the way John is drawn to an increasingly public life, attracting followers she must then find a way to feed as well as the attentions of the land’s Roman occupiers and Zealot rebels. Though the story inevitably leads to John’s martyrdom, it is more so the story of a marriage rather than the tumultuous events that surrounded it.

A slow-moving but well-written tale embroidering the life of one of Scripture’s most charismatic figures.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1493722464

Page Count: 172

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2014

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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