Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg is a retelling of the traditional Christian story of the birth of Jesus.  It begins before Mary and Joseph are betrothed and beyond the exile in Egypt.  I won’t say how much further because that would spoil things.

I have to say that of all the holiday themed books I read this year, this is my favorite.  More traditional and obviously infused with Christian ideas, the story makes iconic figures human.  Some Catholics may take offense that Mary does not remain a virgin after the birth of her son but Berg remains true to the viewpoint that Jesus was conceived supernaturally, as was John the Baptist and Mary herself.

The struggles the young couple face, the doubt Joseph has over Mary’s honesty and her own difficulty with being a submissive housewife are written in a way that makes them both believable and likeable.  The way the characters speak, however, is sometimes so formal and even elevated that they rarely sound natural.  It is a peculiar choice to have Joseph speak as though he were lecturing rather than lusting when you also read about how he has to pull away from Mary because his desire is stirring.  So if in action and thought they are human, in word and speech they are refined and constrained.  I suppose Berg was bearing her readers in mind and could only push the reality envelope so far.

All in all, I liked this book very much and anyone who is a fan of Elizabeth Berg and not put off by Christian tradition will probably find this book a perfectly pleasant one to read going into the holidays.

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