Return to Me, Restoration Chronicles Series #1
"Return to Me" by Lynn Austin is the first in the Restoration Chronicles series. This book gives a fictional retelling of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem after the Babylonians exiled them to Babylonia. The story follows Iddo, Dinah, their grandson, Zaki, and their neighbors. Yael is Zaki's friend, the neighbors daughter. She is a moon goddess worshiper. Babylonia is overtaken; and the new rulers release the Jews to return to Jerusalem. Many didn't want to return, due to having been exiled for 70 years, many either never lived elsewhere or had no connection to Jerusalem. Those that could remember (Iddo) desperately wanted to return. When arriving they rise to the task of restoring the city, temple, and lives.
I am a big Lynn Austin fan. I love her writing. This novel took much longer than normal for me to "get into". Part I just couldn't seem to pull me in. Part II is where I started to really come to care about the characters. Austin really starts to develop Iddo and make the reader care. He suffers from Post traumatic stress and is a deeply faithful man. Austin also starts to pull the reader into the character of Yael. I love how she does her own thing (though wrong) and is so stubborn. She is not a cut out character. Though slow in the beginning this book is well worth the read. I received this book for free in exchange for a review from Bethany House Publishing.
December 8, 2013
Biblically accurate, but not culturally accurate
Writing historical fiction can be tricky. Because the book contains actual historical events, authors assume the risk that some readers will take every word written to be true. No matter how much research is done, an element of fiction can seep its way into a readerÃ¢ÂÂs mind as fact (for example: pirates did not actually make prisoners walk the plank, nor did they bury treasure and mark their maps with an X). With regular historical fiction this has little lasting effect, when writing biblical historical fiction, the weightiness of the task should spur the author on to extensive researchÃ¢ÂÂnot just on the biblical front to get the narrative, but also into the culture of the time period.
I received Return to Me by Lynn Austin from the publisher specifically for review. The story begins in the ancient city of Babylon. The Jewish people have been conquered and in exile for close to seventy years. When the Persians take over the city, King Cyrus allowedÃ¢ÂÂeven encouraged the Jews to return and rebuild GodÃ¢ÂÂs temple in Jerusalem. The book follows the lives of one of the families returning, Iddo, his wife Dinah, his grandson Zechariah, and Ã¢ÂÂZakiÃ¢ÂÂsÃ¢ÂÂ friend Yael. Spanning more than twenty years, Return to Me takes us through the first few decades back in Jerusalem.
Return to Me is an enjoyable-enough story. It follows the biblical timeline well enough and gives good insight into the tensions and temptations that the returning Jews faced, especially in regard to their Samaritan neighbors. The characters are believable and likable. Each chapter is told from one of the four main charactersÃ¢ÂÂ points of view. It is sometimes difficult to remember who is whoÃ¢ÂÂthe children both call their parents Ã¢ÂÂAbbaÃ¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂMamaÃ¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂbut it does not usually detract from the story.
My main issue with the book, though, is while the author did her scriptural research and consulted some commentaries, according to the acknowledgements at the end of the book, there seemed to be very little research done on Jewish culture of the time. All of the Jews in the story seem to be modern Jews going about modern lives.
The author has Zechariah going to yeshiva in Babylon. While there is no historical evidence of the Jewish religious schools in Babylon, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that the teachers and other elders may have set up some semblance of the religious school during that time in exile. However, there is not a yeshiva mentioned in history for at least 400 years after the exiles returned to Jerusalem. Still, that can be mostly overlooked. Unfortunately, that is not where the historical discrepancies stop.
Zechariah spends much of his time in the yeshiva studying for his bar mitzvahÃ¢ÂÂthe day when he would read the Torah in the house of assembly and officially become a man in the eyes of the community. He reads the Torah, and then they return to their communal family home to a very large banquet and party for friends and neighborsÃ¢ÂÂwhich is how bar mitzvahs are celebrated in todayÃ¢ÂÂs culture. During their times of study, the men of the community also wear a kippah (yarmulke or a skull cap). These are both horribly period inappropriateÃ¢ÂÂby nearly 1000 years, perhaps longer.
Instead of looking for husbands for daughters when they come of age in the Jewish culture (at age 12, or when puberty hits), teenageÃ¢ÂÂand olderÃ¢ÂÂdaughters are encouraged to wait until they are older to marry. For example, Yael comes of age during the migration from Babylon to Jerusalem, but her father waits more than ten years to marry her off. The mother of a 16-year-old girl holds off a marriage because sheÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂmuch too young,Ã¢ÂÂ when, in fact, for the time and culture, sheÃ¢ÂÂs bordering on Ã¢ÂÂold maidÃ¢ÂÂ status.
Austin may have simply been trying to equate what the modern reader knows about bar mitzvahs and current Jewish culture to her ancient characters. However, if that is the case, then it should have been stated at the end of the book in the acknowledgements, the authorÃ¢ÂÂs note, or a note from the editor. I was able to find out the above-mentioned three things were not period appropriate in less than five minutes on the Internet. As it stands, it gives the feel that the author may have decided that reading the Bible and commentaries on the text was the only research that needed to be done to write an accurate biblical historical fiction which, in my opinion, is lazy storytelling.
Austin, for reasons unmentioned, also decides to exclude Nehemiah and his rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem in her narrative. While it is not crucial to her story, and I understand why she might have chosen to leave it out for the purposes of space and word count, the security of JerusalemÃ¢ÂÂeven after the wall was supposed to have been builtÃ¢ÂÂis mentioned many times, making me wonder why such a miracle was left out. Large spaces of timeÃ¢ÂÂyears, even a decade at one pointÃ¢ÂÂare skipped over in the book, during which the wall could have been built and Nehemiah return to his job as cup bearer to King Artaxerxes. This, however, would not leave the city completely undefended as is implied in the last few chapters.
For avid readers of and researchers into biblical culture and the biblical narrativeÃ¢ÂÂs cultural history, I would recommend against this book. The errorsÃ¢ÂÂwhile not earth-shatteringÃ¢ÂÂare mentioned continually and will leave the reader with the feeling that the author did not do her due diligence in her research for the book. For those who are not distracted by historically-inaccurate historical fiction, the book is well-written and the story well-told.
November 30, 2013
Brings the Bible to life!
Reading through the life of Bibical characters makes it more personal. I could see how they struggled with doing the will of God, but never wavered in their faith.
November 26, 2013
Best Biblical Fiction
Let me say from the outset that this is easily the best Biblical fiction book I have ever read. I am only familiar with the story of the return from exile and the rebuilding of the temple from the Biblical narrative, and I had forgotten many of the details. It is a story we often gloss over, and I have never studied it in great detail. This insightful, well-researched, and expertly written book captures the story, but it goes beyond that. The reader will be invited to make an emotional connection with the story and the extraordinary characters the author has woven into the fabric of this tale.
There are two themes that unquestionably captured my attention in this book. First of all, the tension surrounding the Jews not wanting to leave Babylon is a dramatic illustration of the Christian walk and our reluctance to leave the world behind. I was thoroughly touched at the depiction of the Samaritans, and I almost found myself in tears as I read about their horrendous acts. But I then realized that we Christians do the same thing. We won't give up the world that we have grown accustomed to in exchange for the life God wants us to have.
The second theme truly blessed me. All too often, we look at the Old Testament and see laws, rules, and a God who is just waiting for us to break one so He can chastise us. That seems to be the Old Testament Jewish mindset. However, this book features an Old Testament Jew who finds what God has promised all along--forgiveness, mercy, and love. Not to give anything away, this character realizes he cannot keep the law, and he realizes that it is only through God that he can be saved. I was so inspired to read that a Jew discovered the secret of salvation even before Christ came, and this was an alluring portion of the story.
This is history, and it never comes across as being preachy. How can it when one of the main characters practices sorcery quite profoundly? It is realistically written, and it stays true to the Biblical account in spite of the obvious fictional insertions.
I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
November 17, 2013