Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: Love Amid the Ashes by Mesu Andrews


Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-8007-3407-7

About the book:

An epic story of love and forgiveness, suffering and restoration...

When her beloved grandfather Isaac dies, Dinah must follow his final command: travel to Job's household to marry his son. After Job's world comes crashing down, Dinah finds herself drawn to this great man brought low. What will she risk to fight for his survival?

Mesu Andrews weaves an emotional and stirring account of Job and Dinah. Love Amid the Ashes breathes life, romance, and passion into the classic biblical story of suffering and steadfast faith.

Review:

Since the horror of her experience at Shechem, when her brothers bathed a city in blood in the name of honor, Jacob’s only daughter Dinah has lived under an oppressive cloud of shame. A virtual outcast in her own family, Dinah’s knowledge of healing and herb lore earns her a place as her grandfather Isaac’s nurse. But from his deathbed, Isaac sends Dinah’s future down a path she never expected by ordering her to marry into Esau’s clan. Though regarded as a fallen woman, Dinah is covered by the covenant promise bestowed on her father’s line – a promise that through marriage she could bless her uncle’s family. Only one man from Esau’s clan steps forward to honor Isaac’s wish – Job, the wisest man in the East, offers his oldest son in marriage. On the journey to Job’s home, Dinah is awed by this righteous man’s ability to look beyond the rumors and accept her as she is, in spite of her past. Job’s desire to see Dinah restored, if only she’ll have the faith to accept Yahweh’s forgiveness, plants the first seeds of hope in Dinah that she might have a future free of condemnation.

But shortly after their arrival, Dinah’s hard-won hope and fragile faith are tested as her newfound friend and benefactor loses everything. Overnight, Job is stripped of family, wealth, and servants, and when his household and riches are reduced to rubble, the man himself falls prey to a crippling illness. Covered in painful sores, with his very flesh decaying before his eyes, Job is reduced to living in piles of filth and waste, sustained by Dinah’s healing knowledge of herbs. Through the horrifying reality of being brought so low, Job clings to his faith in Yahweh’s greater plan, and Dinah finds fresh purpose as his friend and healer. But when those closest to Job array against him in judgment, Job and Dinah’s tenacious faith is brought to the breaking point. In the face of shattering loss and crippling pain, when all hope seems lost and heaven is silent, can faith and love overcome the weight of unspeakable tragedy?

Love Amid the Ashes fascinated me from the moment I discovered the novel’s premise, and it’s been one of my most anticipated reads of the year. I never considered the possibility that Job lived during the time of the patriarchs, that the man famous for his suffering could be a contemporary of Jacob and Dinah. Mesu Andrews weaves together two lives, shattered by horror, into a breathtaking portrait of God’s never-failing, sustaining grace. Dinah receives all too brief mention in the scriptures, raising more questions than answers when one stops to consider her perspective of Shechem’s destruction. How does one cope with being branded a wanton temptress when as a young girl a mistaken night of passion leaves her hands covered in blood, bereft of any hope of an honorable future? As for Job, Andrews’ portrait of the man’s faith in the midst of crushing sorrow takes one’s breath away. Because of the construction of the Book of Job, it’s been all too easy for me to fall into the trap of forgetting that Job was a living, breathing, fallible human being. Despite the text’s many passionate declarations of faith in the midst of suffering, it’s too easy to forget Job the man and the human suffering that birthed the book’s chronicle of faith in trials. Andrews brilliantly fleshes out Job’s life and character, giving context and emotional resonance to the man that makes his suffering even more compelling and his faith even more inspiring.

Andrews’ debut embodies everything I love about biblical fiction. When an author has a passion and heart for the story, they can take the “dry bones” of well-known and loved biblical characters and imbue the individuals immortalized in the scriptures with the vibrancy of the life they once lived on earth. And that life, that previously unimagined yet now fully realized world they inhabit within the pages of a novel like Love Amid the Ashes makes lives such as Dinah’s and Job’s relatable in a fresh new way. The reality of suffering and trust in a believer’s life is such an individual, very personal thing with which to grapple, and this side of heaven one’s understanding cannot help but be limited by our humanity. As someone who’s struggled with “whys,” I freely admit my own tendency to focus on circumstances, or the emotion of the moment, forgetting the sovereignty of the God who holds my future in His hands. Andrews’ beautifully realized, heartfelt portrait of Job and Dinah is a powerful, inspiring reminder of the fact that my God transcends the whys, and when it seems that no answers are forthcoming, that doesn’t mean that He holds me any less securely in the palm of His hand.

Love Amid the Ashes shines with Mesu Andrews’ passion for scripture, and her lovingly crafted portrait of Job’s life cannot fail to inspire a deeper appreciation and study of the biblical text. This is a humbling, challenging novel, and I pray that no matter what your situation, you’ll be reminded of God’s ability to bring beauty from ashes. Hope endures, God’s love never fails, and my Redeemer lives – let the story of Love Amid the Ashes take root in your soul, and take heart. Circumstances may devastate, people may fail you, but God never changes.

8 comments:

Jen said...

Lovely review. It makes me even more interested in reading this book.

Lori Benton said...

Just testing to see if this will post. And I LOVE this review. Made me go straight to Amazon to order the book!

Jennifer said...

That is the most interesting book I've heard of in a while. I don't read much Biblical fiction, mainly because that genre's title is an oxymoron (Bible=truth, fiction=made up stuff, but this sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review! I'm always finding more to add to my to-read list from your blog!!

Ruth said...

@Jen - Thanks, girl! :)

@Lori - Yay for Blogger cooperating! :) Thanks for the comment, my friend, and I can't wait to hear what you think of this book!

@Jennifer - You certainly have a point. :) But Biblical fiction IMO, when done right, illuminates the people who lived in the Bible in whole new ways. And of course the "best" Biblical fiction inspires actual Bible study. :) I hope you get a chance to read this one & that you enjoy it too! :)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I bet I would love this one :)

Ruth said...

@Juju - Hope so! :)

Renee Ann said...

What a great review! I loved this book and plan to write about it in future--but my review won't be as beautiful and in depth as this.

From the beginning of the story when Dinah melts in Job's arms a little as he comforts her, I anticipated the time when she would become his second chance and hope. And I wasn't disappointed!

I, too, was surprised at how the author made Job come alive for me. I had always admired him, but now see him as a true hero. BTW, I read in an interview that Mesu's now writing a novel about Song of Solomon!

This is the next book I have my eye on. But since I'm not on a lot of reviewer's lists, I might miss it's debut . . . http://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Queen-Love-Story-Esther/dp/1595548769

Ruth said...

@Renee Ann - Thank you - that's so sweet of you to say, but I for one will be looking forward to your own review.

I am really looking forward to Mesu's 2nd book about Solomon - that should be excellent!

I'm also want to read this new Esther novel - that's another favorite story of mine. :)