Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Review: "Rachel" by Jill Eileen Smith

Rachel Jill Eileen Smith
Published: February, 2014
ISBN: 9780800734312
Genre: Christian Fiction
Source: Netgalley
Recommended for readers interested in the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah

Rachel wants nothing more than for her older half sister Leah to wed and move out of their household. Leah wishes her father would find a good man who would love her alone. Unbeknownst to either of them, Jacob is making his way to their home, trying to escape a past laced with deceit and find the future God has promised him.

But the past comes back to haunt Jacob when he finds himself on the receiving end of treachery. The man who wanted only one woman ends up with sisters who have never gotten along and now must spend the rest of their lives sharing a husband. In the power struggles that follow, only one woman will triumph . . . or will she?

My Thoughts:
I chose this book almost completely out of curiosity.  I had previous read Michal by Jill Eileen Smith and I liked her premise of basing books on wives of notable Old Testament men, but I wasn't sure how she would handle this one.

The story of Rachel and Leah is well known, but here is a very high-level run down for anyone not familiar with the story from the book of Genesis.  Jacob, who is a sort of shifty fellow in his own right, flees Canaan for the land of Uncle Laban.  There, he sees Rachel and falls in love with her.  He works out a deal with her father, Laban (yes, they were cousins--but who wasn't?) that he will work for Laban for 7 years in return for Rachel.  He does his time, gets married and the following morning when he lifts the veil---there is Rachel's older sister, Leah.  Leah is described as having "beautiful eyes" in the Bible, while Rachel is just plain beautiful.  Jacob is not exactly happy about this, but agrees to work for another 7 years for Laban to marry Rachel as well.  So, now he's married to two sisters, but only loves one.  God takes pity on Leah and "opens" her womb and she starts giving birth to son after son after son (which of course would make someone question Jacob's "eyes only for Rachel" policy).  Rachel realizes she is barren, so she gives Jacob her maid Billah to have sons in her stead.  Leah, not to be outdone, then gives Jacob her maid Zilpah for more sons--while herself still having children--and a full blown baby making war ensues.  Rachel does end up giving birth to Joseph, who becomes a major Patriarch and the subject of a Tim Rice / Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, as well as Benjamin.  All in all, Jacob ends up with 13 acknowledged children--12 sons and 1 daughter--from Leah, Rachel, and their maids. (And, of course, family dysfunction carries on...and on...and on...)

So, this is a story of lots and lots of, well, sex.  And that is not exactly something you see a lot of in Christian fiction.  It is also a story of a lot of really uncomfortable family dynamics, which isn't always fun for the reader.  I was really curious to see how Smith handled this, and to my view, she wasn't completely successful.

I will come right about and admit that part of my problem was that I just didn't like how she told this story.  Jacob, who has a history of his own scheming (I won't go into it--it's all there in the Book of Genesis) comes across as a lily-white saint.  There are some vague references to stealing his brother's birthright, but Smith seems to gloss over that.  Frankly, I think he would have been more interesting if Smith had stuck closer to how the Bible's version of him.

Before reading this book, I was firmly in the "Team Leah" camp and this book did nothing to change that.  I found the character of Rachel to be childish long past the point when her character should have been behaving in such a way.  And, I realize this is petty on my part, but it annoyed me every time that Smith referred to Rachel's beautiful eyes.  Yeesh!  That is the only thing Leah had and you give it to Rachel?

Smith does a good job of sticking to the scripture but, and this is probably the only time I will every say this, I wish she had taken a bit of artistic liberty in one area.  The "rape" of Dinah comes up at the end of this book--where it does in the Bible--and it is just too big of an event to not devote quite of bit time and energy to.  I would have been more than happy to forgive that omission from this story.

I will say that Smith does an admirable job of trying to get this story into the "Christian Fiction" genre.  Ironically, this book is not overtly "Christian"--what I mean is that a non-Christian reader could read it without feeling they were being preached to or having to struggle with beliefs they may not share.

However, I probably wouldn't recommend this to a non-Christian reader--not because of anything in this book, but because there is a much better book out there.  Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which is the story of Dinah, is a fantastic novel that really digs deep into the relationships between all these women and explores the role of women in the days of the Patriarchs.  It is not, however, a Christian novel (Diamant herself is Jewish) and it is more graphic than some readers of Christian Fiction would appreciate.  It is for those readers I would recommend this book.  For me, however, it just didn't work.

I received an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.  I received no other compensation for this post.

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