Sarah — Women of Genesis Series — Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card is best known as a science fiction writer. He has several excellent NY Times best sellers including Ender’s Game. One of my favorite of his secular works it called Pastwatch – the Redemption of Christopher Columbus. It is an alternate history which fascinates me.
I love his religious work for two reasons. One, the context that he supplies is better than the one that I supply on my own as I read scripture and history. Part of that is due to my lack of contextual study and preparation. For example, he is careful to describe the ramifications of drought conditions that occurred during Abraham’s time. Whereas I read through the ‘drought’ passages and had a picture in my mind of dusty plaines, he speaks of wells drying, herds decimated and cities abandoned. My appreciation for Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel is greater for the improved context.
Is his context accurate? He has done enough historical research to be directionally correct and where vague historical evidence requires his interpretation, his presentation is well reasoned.
The second, and more important reason I love his work is that although he does not shirk from dealing with tough issues as he does in Saints with polygamy, he gives the benefit of the doubt to the prophets. His testimony seeps through his words. It is clear that he loves Joseph, Brigham, Abraham, Sarah and others and that he is not trying for an academically defensible stance.
Soapbox: What most readers and writers of history fail to understand is that history is not a recounting of events as they occurred. It is an interpretation. You cannot write of read history a-contextually. You bring baggage to bear on any situation historical and otherwise. It would be a mistake to assume, that therefore, all historical interpretations are of equal value. It does mean that you must consider both the reader and the teller of history as you consume the material. One of the great lessons of quantum physics is that the measurer and the means of measurement is as important as the phenomenon being measured. This is certainly true of history.
Sarah was my least favorite of the three books in the trilogy. Having said that, I loved reading it. It is a tough thing for a man to do adequate character development on a woman. I ended Sarah with a profound appreciation for Abraham and a modest appreciation for Sarah over and above what I already believed about her before reading. From the opposite gender character development standpoint, Card’s work in Sarah reminded me of Jane Austen’s work in Pride and Prejudice. Austen’s female character development was far superior to that of the men in the book. Card does much better in Rebekah, my favorite of the trilogy.
The book talks of Sarai’s family as someone fallen from previous royalty by rule to royalty in blood and wealth only. Sarai is one of two sisters, the other, Qira is married to Lot and meets her demise as Sodom is destroyed. Cards portrayal of Qira removes any sting that the reader might be left with at her death. Everyone is relieved, and if not relieved, better off. Along with a decline in influence, the family falls into idol and false god worship. In fact, Sarai is designated to become a priestess before the god Asherah and struggles with lingering doubts about the power of Asherah throughout her life. Asherah is an interesting figure to bring up in Sarah’s context. She was anciently the female counterpart of the great god El who were both later replaced by Yaweh. The book prompted my own study of Asherah that I may write about someday.
Sarah struggles, but is always faithful to Abraham to the end. The portrayal of Hagar and her interaction with Sarah was interesting and placed Sarah in a good light in removing Hagar and Ismael from Abraham’s camp. It shows Sarah as an active participant and sometimes driver in the decision making process with Hagar.
One of the greatest aspects of the book is that it draws heavily on the Pearl of Great Price and the Joseph Smith translation of Genesis. These two scriptural accounts are marvelous and are well-woven into the story.
The book was worth reading and increased my respect for Card.