As a rule, I don't review or comment on books of fiction here on the blog. First, because I don't read much fiction. Second, because I feel I'm not very qualified to judge the quality of fiction. And third, I have trouble staying up with all the non-fiction I want to read and call to your attention.
But today I'll throw all that out and tell you about a quite engaging work of fiction called Jairus's Daughter: A Midrash, by Patti Rutka.
This charming and disarming story comes after a similarly engrossing work of fiction by Rutka, Salomé, which I wrote about briefly last year here. (Scroll to the bottom of that book column.)
The term "midrash" technically means "to inquire." Thus, a midrash is an explanation of whatever it is about which the inquiry is being made. Generally the term refers to interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures.
In Rutka's story, she tells of a young girl described -- but not named -- in both Mark 5 and Luke 28. She's the girl whose father, Jairus, a temple leader, sought out Jesus so he could ask Jesus to save her from death. The gospels tell us that by the time Jesus and Jairus got to Jairus's home, the girl was dead. But Jesus raised her to new life.
Rutka names her Aviel and describes her mixed-blessing life after this astonishing event. She eventually moves from Capernaum to Jerusalem and learns to be a scribe, though of course there are rules that prevent her from using her skills to make copies of the Torah.
At the same time, Rutka introduces us to a modern woman from Madison, Wis., named Anna, a professional rock climber, who in the midst of a rocky love relationship, goes to Israel to do some work.
I'm sure I need not tell you that in a mysterious way, the lives and stories of Aviel and Anna intersect, and along the way readers get a good taste of what First Century life in the Holy Land was like and they also get introduced to some aspects of biblical interpretation.
In the end, Rutka makes an ancient gospel story breathe, and she connects it to our own lives. It's quite an achievement. Beyond that, the author understands that verbs are a writer's best friend and are what carry the freight -- a lesson many writers never figure out.
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ANOTHER NEW YORK IDEA
The two people who proposed to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York now say they are considering instead an interfaith center, either at the same site or elsewhere. I still favor an Islamic center near Ground Zero for many reasons, which I explained last year here. In any case, I hope all this is resolved soon so people who are Islamophobic won't be using it as an excuse for more hatred. (And, no, not all opponents of the Ground Zero area for this center are Islamophobic.)