on May 24, 2004
Orson Scott Card, whose Ender and Shadow books stand as some of the most inovative science fiction of recent time, here tries his hand at biblical fiction. While his prose remain reasonable and crisp, his characters here become rather flat. Card's novel rendition of the first matriarch Sarah falls short for the reason much biblical fiction fails, the desire to turn the characters into paragons. Here Abraham is allways the perfect husband and the perfect servant of the Lord. Sarah's faith strays, but never for more than a sentence before it whips back into a state of spiritual perfection. Even the character's who serve as antagoinists, Hagar for example, never come to life.
The result is unfortunate. The novel becomes deadly dull as we read how varrious saintly characters interact, except when a character is not a saint, in which case they are quickly forgiven. Conflict and genunie doubt are, at all times, here kept at a minimum.
The most interesting thing about this book is the way it presents the Mormon perspective on the story of Genesis. Here Abraham, far from the first monotheist, is the carrier of ancient wisdom handed down along a direct line form Noah. This non-textual take is common among Mormon readings. However, it hardly makes this rather dull read worth the effort.
on July 10, 2004
I'ma big fan of OSC's sci-fi books, with their strength being character development & ethical dilemmas as opposed to "gadgetry" or technological advances. So I was interested to see what he would do with the fictional account of a biblical matriarch from 3,000 years ago (give or take). I found this book profoundly moving.
As a man reading a book by another man, about a woman from long ago & lacking in historical details of what her life was really like, you would think this book would lack authenticity. I can't say how women would react to it (although my wife found it excellent). But to me, the author's portrayal of Sarah's stigma of barrenness, her struggle to find a role for herself in Abraham's world, her deft handling of their visit to the Pharoah in Egypt, and her weary patience with her (fictional) spoiled sister Qira (in this book, the author has her married to Lot of Sodom & Gomorrah fame), all ring true.
This is supposed to be the first of a series of three books on women from the Old Testament; based on this one, you can definitely sign me up for the next two.
on January 30, 2004
I have often considered the Bible as a whole to be the greatest and long-lived piece of Science Fiction ever written. That being said, who better to write an accessible and entertaining retelling of one of it's most beloved tales from the Old Testament then Orson Scott Card himself?
It is obvious that Orson Scott Card believes in the lives and deeds of the characters of which he writes in "Sarah." He approaches the subject matter in "Sarah" with a delicate, simple and reasoned approach. I can't imagine anyone taking offense to this book. The appearances of God throughout the book are subtle and take place for the most part out of view of the reader, with the exception of the arrival of angels in and destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
My views on the Bible aside, one must give Orson Scott Card the proper credit for the effort of writing this book, developing biblical characters into mainstream popular fiction cannot be an easy task. I would recommend this novel to anyone who seeks clarification of the story of Sarah as told in the Bible. This is a good retelling of it.
on October 30, 2002
"Sarah" sets out to take the light sketch of Abraham's wife in the Bible and extend it into a full novel telling much of her life's story from her point of view. If "Sarah" is any clue, OS Card set out with the "Women of Genesis" series to loft a feminist retake on the biblical story of the patriarchs: What were the wives of these great prophets up to? Why do they, despite sparing reference in the Bible, get a lot more attention than almost any other women in the male-dominated scriptures? Could it be because they were as intelligent, brave, righteous, and powerful in their service to the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," just as much as their famous, credit-hogging husbands? Sarah turns out to qualify, not just as a co-equal with the revered Abraham, but his indispensable support without whom he could not have lived up to greatness. In keeping with this 20th-century revision of 4,000-year-old nomadic culture, Sarah is also outspoken and liberated, with Abraham not batting an eye, as both of them talk like modern Americans. Those easily offended at irreverent takes on revered religious figures will not appreciate Abraham teasing the aging Sarah about her saggy breasts, though those offended by religious stuffiness will have a ball with the refreshingly human portrayals. Nor will purists of the historical novel appreciate the dialog, though the author has made a genuine effort to depict an accurate milieu of nomadic life. Actually, since depicting ancient culture really accurately is ultimately an intractable challenge, substituting the audience's culture into the unknowns makes as much sense for the story as anything. Purists of whatever flavor of orthodox Biblical interpretation are also bound to get riled, not least by the substitution of less miraculous replacements for the brimstone from heaven and the punishment by transformation into a pillar of salt. Card also sneaks in a few Mormon conceits hinting at the Book of Enoch, and the Pharaoh's sacred rituals as an apostate form of the real temple ceremonies.
Although "Sarah" functions admirably as a distant prequel to Card's fantastic "Stone Tables" (the story of Moses), I started losing patience with Sarah and Abraham at the same time Pharaoh was losing patience with them in the story. Although it starts out in characteristic Card form with appealing character development as Sarah learns of Abraham and they launch off on their adventure together, my credibility was stretched by the summary execution with which their romance together was dispensed. As the story continues, it started to dawn on me that Sarah and Abraham are both a little too confident in their righteousness for much doubt to remain as to where the story is going. After all, we have read this story before; the devil has got to be in the details; but the details are filled only with God. This ideal faith leaves little to be resolved.
Although Hagar is introduced as interestingly tragic, and her talent for frank analogies to bedchambers endears her, the following setup explaining the biblical story of Abraham fathering a child with her is too pat, and the pain it inflicts on Sarah too tidy. Worse, Hagar's character is disingenuously contorted to fit the artificial demands of the new plot, going from sympathetic up until the impregnation to repulsive, redemptionless witch afterward. This uncomfortable pattern is repeated with Sarah's sister, who marries Lot and is also tagged with a "rejected-by-God" sign on her back that apparently requires the story to turn her into a shrill, putrid scab of a human being to get us to understand that it was really for the best for God to wipe her out. I can understand giving more background to show a God who reserved punishment for more than just a minor infraction like looking back homeward after he said not to, but a dumpster-full of justification was served where a single pie would have done nicely. The same goes for the general population of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose depiction was ripped out of the Clockwork Orange complemented by a genuinely hostile commentary on homosexuality, coming from a writer with a stable-full of sympathetic gay characters in earlier novels. That combined with the heavily slanted depiction of the Isaac Versus Ishmael story as backdrop for the next four thousand years and counting of Jew Versus Arab conflict, will potentially put off a significant slice of potential readers who do not share with the author his professed admiration for the Fox News Channel worldview.
Despite its flaws, "Sarah" remains at least serviceable and often compelling, as an exercise in historical and religious revisionism. The dependable Card trademarks of compelling character-driven storytelling and insightful moral and psychological exploration are still here to merit a four-star rating. But don't go away - the series takes a huge leap forward in Part Deux with "Rebekah." I've noticed the Amazon sales rank is lower for "Rebekah" than for "Sarah," suggesting there are lots of you out there doing what I almost did and foregoing the second installment due to less-than-expected delicious Card storytelling in the first. But if you at all enjoyed this one, the best is yet to come.
on June 26, 2002
Sarai, later to become Sarah, is a character who can help women who are both intellectually and emotionally gifted see all that a woman can be with faith in herself and faith in her God. Although she begins as the profound woman behind the man/prophet, she shows herself to be a person in her own right because she can deal compassionately with people at all positions in life. She can do this because she is insightful and honest, above all else. Sometimes she is so honest and so unself-serving, that others are able to take advantage of her goodnesses and able to cast her in a bad light. But, she sticks with her beliefs and her personal ethics and the truth, and she overcomes all to remain admired and respected. Throughout the story, the reader ached for her barrenness and for the slights she suffered at the hands of maid, Hagar, and at the words of her own sister who can conceive but only daughters. Nonetheless, Sarai holds to her path and remains true to her love for Abram and her to hope that she shall conceive a son, all the while fighting off the belief that she is being punished for marrying in the first place. In her later years she gives up her hope to bear a child and comes up with an alternate, perhaps unwise, solution. Abram in old age gets the vision for her to become Sarah and for him to become Abraham, she laughts at the notion that her womb can still carry a child. They are old, and realistically she cannot AND he cannot... Yet, the miraculous brings them Isaac. From here we follow the path of a cautions and protective mother. He is the heir, and he has threats to his life and his future at the hands of Hagar's, the maid's, son conceived with Abram. Sarah lives to be 90 and to follow her son into manhood. She even teaches her prophet husband to see past, through, and into a situation before he judges. Even those who betray her, she understands their motives and refuses to hate them. Living in her head in this novel and being witness to the logic of her hopes, fears, and comprehension of the world in which she lives should earn her the respect of any reader. This is written in the usual intellectual style of Card, a cannot-putter-downer!
on May 25, 2002
I wish I could give this three and a half stars, because it's still Card, and Card is still brilliant. Two factors make it less than it could be, though, and one of them is troubling. First, he doesn't have a lot to work with and, trying to be too faithful perhaps, he doesn't stray very far from the story he's been handed in order to make it any better. The result is a plotline too thin to make an entire novel, and characters who are sometimes choppy and disconnected -- neither of these is an issue in the original Genesis, because the story as told is short and in disjointed pieces, but when you keep those factors and try to novelize the tale it just doesn't work completely. The more upsetting problem is exactly what story Card considers himself to have been handed. The book is being advertised as about the Sarah of Genesis, but it includes many events which are flat-out not told in Genesis, some contradictory to the conventional interpretation of Genesis, and only available in the Mormon tradition's private view of Sarah's story. This would not be a problem if it were marketed as a Mormon view of Sarah but it is not. It is marketed as a Biblical view of Sarah, which it most emphatically isn't, and Card gets sloppy in some really obvious ways -- for instance, making Sarah at one point go down on her knees to pray. Israelites, from Abraham's time on, NEVER prayed on their knees; that is a Christian and not a Hebrew custom. That a Mormon author raised within a Christian country might reflexively consider it the way to pray is understandable; that he was so serene in his own tradition's distortions of the Biblical story that he did not even bother to research the customs of the time is frankly offensive.
on January 21, 2002
Orson Scott Card is a great writer. I do not use the term lightly but it is justified in his case because I have yet to read a book by him that I did not love. Sarah is no exception.
Card brings this Biblical character to life and makes her choices and decisions understandable. We will never know what the real Sarah was like but if she was half as compelling as her fictional counterpart then she was worthy of her place in the Bible.
Card's Sarah truly seems capable of being what she was in the Bible - the mother of a nation. Neither Sarah of Abraham are perfect - they have faults. Abraham doubts Sarah when she should have had his trust, Sarah doubts the power of God when her whole life was proof of his power but ultimately they are compelling characters drawn artfully.
Card has a gift of accurate and real portrayals of women. They are not cardboard cut outs existing to prop up the male but fleshed out characters in their own right.
Like many of Card's tales I hated it to end. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I realised that it was time to leave Sarah. Even if you usually read Card for his sci-fi and fantasy give this one a try. Everything that makes him a compelling author in those genres are in evidence here.
on December 16, 2001
This is a fascinating story. Starting with Sarah at the age of 10, it tells the story of Sarah and Abraham. Sarah springs to life from the very first page. Abraham, while more of a sketch and seen only through Sarah's eyes, is a vivid outline. To successfully describe a deeply religious man, one who spends hours every day in prayer, is an almost impossible task, but Card succeeds. In the same way, it seemed impossible to make the pharoah who holds Sarah captive for a year into a real person but the pharoah of Egypt and his court and his motives make complete sense. Card successfully avoids cliches. The Hagar-Sarah relationship is also well-done and becomes, through the character of Hagar, a searing commentary of the effects of slavery, abuse and powerlessness on the human soul. Sarah is kind to her slave Hagar and Hagar simply cannot accept the unfamiliar kindness. Card makes only one departure from the Bible. He makes Sarah's sister also be Lot's wife. This works very well up to a point. The sister, Qira, is a good foil for Sarah. Her selfishness points up Sarah's generosity and loving nature. Unfortunately, Qira's character is so bad that she stops being a real person. However, that's a minor flaw in an otherwise good book. At the end of the novel, the author makes comments on the writing of the book and how he solved the Biblical-historical dilemnas. I highly recommend reading that section as well as the story.
on November 5, 2001
When my book group decided to read the book Sarah, by Orson Scott Card, I didn't think I would like it. I knew that Orson Scott Card wrote science fiction novels, and I don't like science fiction that much so my expectations of actually liking the book weren't very high.
Was I surprised! I loved the book. It was about the story of Sarah and Abraham and the book was based on their story from the book of Genesis in the Bible. There wasn't a dull moment in the story and by the end I felt as if I knew Sarah and Abraham really well. It is not your typical book from a science fiction writer and I really enjoyed reading it. There were so many great moments in the book and I experienced a wide spectrum of feelings and emotions while reading the book. People might think that because it was based on a story from the Bible it would be boring, but it wasn't. It was a really good story with a great plot and I loved the storyline and dialogue between Sarah and Abraham. It was an awesome book! :)
on July 10, 2001
This is an entertaining story of the life of Sarah, a woman who is portrayed as intelligent, strong, and faithful. The way in which Card weaves the storyline is creative, and I must admit that I found myself much more comfortable with the content of this book compared to Diamant's Red Tent, and the style of writing is almost as good as Diamant's too. I recommend both books, but this book is probably more appropriate for those that might be offended by the slightly irreverent nature of Diamant's work. I liked the way that Card ended the novel, however I did wish he would have added at least one more chapter, so that the reader might see how Sarah could have possibly reacted upon the return of Abraham and Isaac from Moriah. I understand why he didn't include this, partly because of the difficulty it would have posed, and partly because at the end of the story, we know Sarah so well that the reader can run the scenario through his or her own mind. Oh, and I should also mention that I felt a bit of guilty pleasure in seeing Lot's wife disappear from the pages of the book. [...]