by Ginger Garrett
Author website: http://www.gingergarrett.com/
Available in paperback. NavPress, 2005; ISBN: 1576836517; 291 pages.
The Old Testament book of Esther is somewhat mysterious. Never is the name of God mentioned. The characters never pray or even acknowledge a sovereign God. It's an exciting story with beauty, war, genocide, power and gluttony. The title character is a Jewess, but without any reference to God or even faith, it seems shockingly unreligious to be included in the Bible.
Seasoned nonfiction writer Ginger Garrett tackled the life of Esther for this her first novel. It's a very interesting read, putting flesh on the well-known Biblical character.
The book is formatted as Esther's actual diary, discovered Persian antiquities. Scattered between the Queen's entries are modern day newpaper clippings, press releases, footnotes of context or culture and commentaries by historians.
If you're unfamiliar with the story (which takes place around 450BC and is the basis for the Jewish holiday of Purim), here is a quick synopsis. Esther is a Jewish orphan being raised by her uncle, Mordecai. When Xerxes, King of Persia, exiles his queen, the search begins for a replacement. From India to Ethiopia, girls are taken from their families, Esther included. They're forced to take part in a one-year beautification and training process before being granted one night with the King and a chance at becoming his queen. Esther, of course wins the beauty pageant, all the while keeping her ethnicity a secret. Later Hamaan, right-hand-man to King Xerxes plans to anihilate the entire Jewish race. Mordecai discovers the plot and tells Esther who now is faced with keeping her crown and her life or saving her people.
This was a great book! I thoroughly enjoyed it. The historical context was fatanstic. The sidebars and commentaries were, at times, like a devotional encouraging personal application of Biblical truths. We know God is never mentioned in Esther's story, but we also know He was most definitely there. Sometimes it seems He is absent from our lives as well, but we must be confident of His ever-presence and provident orchestration.
Bonus feature: Persian Dinner and Discussion Guide. Nine questions are suggested for group discussion, but the best part is the recipes. Yes - recipes! The author includes six recipes and a menu for an authentic Persian feast -- including Chicken in Pomegranate Sauce, Lamb Kabobs with Mint and Rosewater Cookies. It's perfect for group discussion, Bible study groups, a Purim celebration or just wooing your own king.
Final Thoughts: It's not a book for guys -- they'll be bored for sure, but it's a great read for women who enjoy interesting characters and history. The only thing I did not like about the book: in a couple spots the author takes a modern pro-women view. (I'm sorry, I don't believe ancient middle-eastern women were permitted to work while their kids went to factory-sponsored daycare.) These moments were minor and toward the end of the story. Even with these shattering my suspension of belief, I gladly recommend this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to host my own Persian feast.