Hope can always be found in the darkest of places!
March 11, 2014
Ever since reading The Thief, Stephanie Landsem's second novel in The Living Water Series, I felt I missed out on her debut novel, The Well. I was so impressed and lost in her novel, I had to read this one just to see where it all began and to satisfy the longing in my book lover's heart. You know when you find an exceptional author, you have to pick up everything they write. I was not disappointed in my discovery. Thank you to Howard Books for generously sending me this copy to read and review without any monetary compensation for a favorable review.
One of the things that make Stephanie's novels so exceptional is she doesn't leave out any details when taking a known event from the Bible and expounding on the details that we don't know. Given that very little is known about the Samaritan women at the well that Jesus encounters, I love how Stephanie elaborated on what her life must have been like to bring her to that fateful life changing encounter we all know about from the Bible.
In the novel The Well, the reader is transported back in time to the Samaritan village of Sychar, where we find ourselves meeting the famed adulterous woman, Nava who is once again bringing much shame and disgrace not only to the village but more importantly to her daughter Mara and her disabled brother Asher. Knowing that her mother has completely lost sight of what this could bring to her family if anyone discovers what she is doing, Mara takes on the role of the mother, providing for the care and feeding of her mother and Asher. Since they are among the poorest in the village, they are only able to get by with the charity of the women in town who leave whatever they can spare so Mara and Asher won't go hungry. But Mara knows the charity will only last for so long as she manages to care for her family any way she can.
Fate intervenes when Jesus comes to the town of Sychar and meets Nava at the well. Just when it looks like things will get better for their family, those in the town that seek revenge instead of grace won't stop until they ensure that the laws of God are upheld in town. But once her mother is brought before the court, will there be anyone willing to stand up for righteousness against the odds? You just might be surprised at how well Stephanie writes the conclusion of her debut novel.
I received The Well by Stephanie Landsem compliments of Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster Publishers for my honest opinion. The one thing I didn't realize is how she will preserve some of these characters for their reprising role in The Thief. I don't want to spoil it for you but trust me, if you love Biblical Fiction, you will definitely want to pick up The Well and The Thief. This is such an exceptional journey because you feel as though you're not just reading the story but actually living there. Just the violent act of stoning is something I am glad we don't do any longer and it seems it would be a painful and slow death at the hands of people who believe their are justified in their actions. This reminds me of mob-like vigilante's of the ancient days. I easily give this a 5 out of 5 stars in my opinion.
A wonderful book, Stephanie Landsem breathes fresh life and understanding into the story of the woman at the well. Under her skilled pen, the characters, the setting, the history of ancient Samaria spring to life. A captivating account based on a familiar biblical story, Stephanie Landsem brings her reflection, and enchantment, as she gives authenticity to the setting and the complex history of Jews and Samaritans, and to the overall feel of the story from John 4:1-40 in the Bible. Yes, it is a story about the women at the well and how it might have been for her and her family, and excellently done, but what is even more intriguing about the story is Stephanie interpretation - and is that maybe, just maybe Shem (that is in the story) could have been Stephen. - St Stephen, the first martyr that is written about in the book of the Bible, Acts of the Apostles.
The only primary source for information about Stephen is the New Testament book Acts of the Apostles. Yet, there is a debate among scholars and some Samaritan and Bible scholars, on the belief that Stephen could have been a hellenized Samaritanâ€” a well-educated Samaritan from a Greek-speaking, cosmopolitan city, such as Caesarea and one of the Samaritans that heard the words of Jesus when he was in the town of Sychar from the story of 'the women at the well' in the passages from the Bible.
Stephen is one of the most interesting characters in the New Testament. His story is short--but intense. His work belongs to a few days, and he makes but one speech--but his influence belongs to all after time! He was the first deacon and the first Christian martyr. Acts 6:1-8, 7:54 to 8:2. So as Mara, reflects in the story line of "The Well" this is not really about me, but about Shem, to whom the Lord has called and renamed Stephen, for he will be the first of many." Stephen's name means "crown," and he was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr's crown. So it is quite intriguing to think that this could be the early life of Stephen the Martyr, (later anointed St Stephen by the Catholic Church) is one and the same. Excellent analogy! Because I absolutely loved it, I recommend it to all readers, not just a few. I am highly anticipating the next book in the series "The Thief" (The Living Water Series).
I do love a good Biblical fiction--and this is one great Biblical fiction!
Mara is the daughter of the Biblical woman at the well, Nava, and the sister of a cripple, Asher. Many of the people at Sychar have decided they should be shunned. Nava because she sent her husband away and indulges in things she shouldn't; Asher because he is crippled, and it must be because he or his mother deserve punishment; and Mara by association.
Shem is the son of a wealthy Jewish merchant and a Samaritan mother and the possessor of a hot temper and arrogance that doesn't endear him to the Romans in Caesarea. A fight with two soldiers one night first to protect a woman about to be raped and then to protect his younger brother results in the violent death of one of the soldiers.
Now Shem's father must send him to Sychar, to his grandparents, to hide. Shem is mortified, at least until he catches a glimpse of Mara.
I enjoyed this Biblical fiction novel. It had a different twist to it than other versions I've read. In this book the main character was the daughter of the woman who went to the well in Samaria -- the one who said Jesus told her everything she'd ever done -- not the woman herself. There were a lot of tense moments in the story... but at times Mara got on my nerves. She was such a worrier, and very stubborn.
The way the author had several different stories going at the same time was cool, and the way they were merged together when Shem met Mara worked well. The scene with Nava at the synagogue was pretty intense. At that time I grew to admire Mara's faith and her pursuit of Jesus. The people in their town were cruel and judgmental, but I suppose that self-righteous attitude is pretty prevalent with a lot of religious people.
I liked Shem a lot. The tension between him and Mara was well done. Poor Mara had no clue that he would be fond of her as a woman. Even though in theory I should not have liked how things turned out in the end, I was satisfied with the resolution. The twist with Shem was pretty cool. I'm sure that's all fiction, but I still liked it.
I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy Biblical fiction and don't mind a lot of improvising with the facts. There are a lot of stories that don't have the details needed to make a complete novel. As long as it goes with the culture of the times, I enjoy seeing how different authors use the setting to bring out different points.
The story byline, "A desperate girl, a dangerous journey, an extraordinary sacrifice," says it well. Using a palette of multiple hues, the author paints sacrifice into the novel from Chapter One right through to the surprising and effective ending. The plot follows an appropriately crooked path and is driven by a relentless search for Taheb, the longed-for Samaritan Restorer.
Dysfunction shapes many of the characters, but a few sturdy individuals serve as tent pegs of stability. The major players, along with the dialogue, are believable for the most part, though the horse ride might be off-putting to people who know horses.
Landsem shines best in her meticulous research. She gives authenticity to the setting, to the complex history of Jews and Samaritans, and to the overall feel of the story. Having written my own biblical novel, I know how difficult a task that is, but the end product of her diligence lives and breathes and generates energy.