June 2009


Rachel & Leah” follows “Rebekah” in Card’s “Women of Genesis” series,  where the story  segues into Jacob’s  flight from Esau’s wrath over the usurpation of the birthright.  Jacob seeks refuge in his Uncle Laban’s camp where he meets Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah.  And thus this story unfolds to center on these  four important women in the Genesis whose lives would intertwine  each other and around one man, Jacob.

 

 

Author  :  Orson Scott Card

First Publication Date :  2004

First Publisher   :  Shadow Mountain

This Edition’s Publication Date  :  November 29, 2005  (Mass Market Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Forge Books

 ISBN-10: 0765341298

 ISBN-13: 978-0765341297

No. of pages :   368

 

The Story :

Leah is the myopic eldest daughter of Rebekah’s brother, Laban.  Her acute nearsighted condition limits her participation in the normal, everyday life of  a  pastoral camp.  Leah’s greatest desire is  to know her purpose and worth.  She believes that God’s purpose for her is in the Scriptures,  God’s Words.   She reveals to Jacob her desire to study the Holy Writings.    Jacob readily teaches her to read and write in preparation for understanding the Holy Scriptures.  However her perceptual infirmity forces her to rely increasingly on her handmaid, Bilhah, who undertakes the same tasks  of reading and copying the Scriptures for posterity. In the daily reading and writing exercises, Leah becomes secretly enamored of Jacob.

Rachel, the youngest daughter of Laban, is known as the beauty of the family. It is she whom Jacob falls in love with when he spies her at the well.  He contracts with Laban for the hand of Rachel in return for his service as a bondsman for seven years.

Bilhah, Leah’s handmaid, is orphaned before she comes into Laban’s household.  She is not a slave but a free woman.  Although free in name, she still serves the family to earn her place.  Thus, Bilhah’s confused stature earns her a chip on her shoulder.  She makes a very impatient handmaid to Leah so later she is given over to Rachel instead.  She becomes adept in reading and writing, so Jacob gives her the task (enviable to Leah) of copying the Holy Scriptures.

Zilpah is born in Laban’s camp as a bondservant.  A flirt and an opportunist,  Zilpah has the ambition of bettering her life and status.  She assesses correctly that her future will hold nothing should she stay forever in Laban’s camp.  Thus, she plans to attach herself to those who can take her away from it.  An opportunity arises when she makes herself indispensable to Leah and thus, becomes her handmaid.  Also, she tells Jacob of Laban’s sons’ plot to kill him, raising her trustworthiness in Jacob’s eyes.

All four women are drawn inexorably to Jacob.  As per the Biblical story, Jacob completes his seven-year servitude to Laban and prepares to wed Rachel.  Rachel, in her seven-year “engagement” to Jacob,  had not thought much about marriage and what it truly entails.  Her ignorance sends her in a serious panic and suddenly she cannot bear to marry Jacob nor any man for that matter.  In Hebrew culture where honor and pride is paramount, Laban must think  of a way  to honor his commitment to Jacob and at the same time,  address his daughter’s emotional stress and her well-being.  What follows is exactly what happens in the Bible, but with the author’s own, very creative twist of how these historical  events happen to be so.

 

 

The Review :

In this novel, Card has to flesh out the characters of four women.  And he does this best with Leah who slowly grows in character as the book progresses.  The other three aren’t as developed but it is interesting to notice the dynamics between the four of them, with Jacob somehow drawing them together as the story progresses.

As in “Rebekah“, the author also takes an interest in his male characters and pays the central ones very good attention.  Jacob is a born leader, quiet and gentle but with a natural charisma that endears him to many.  Laban is a loving father who treasures his daughters and would do anything possible to make them happy.

For a male author, it must have been a challenge to have to draw four different female personalities and get into their psyches.  However, Card does quite a good job of it, as mirrored in this excerpt from his Rachel character who reacts with these thoughts to Jacob’s statement, “…compared to women, everything is easy..” :

“…Whatever it was that men imagined about women, they did not change their minds just because a woman disagreed.  Father was that way, and every other man Rachel had talked to in the camp.  It’s as if they thought that women were conducting a vast conspiracy to deceive men and make their lives difficult, so that anything a woman might say to simplify things had to be an attempt at deception.

If only men would listen to us, they’d find out that each one of us is different, and we’re eager to teach you how to understand us.  But I can’t tell you how to understand Leah–I don’t understand her either.  And if you did understand her, poor foolish man, you would think that you then understood all the rest of us, and you’d be hopelessly wrong.  No wonder you despair of understanding women.  The best you could ever hope for would be to understand one woman.  And that’s the goal none of you ever seems to try for.”   — pp. 198-199

Orson Scott Card likes to put his own philosophies within his characters’ dialogues and ruminations;  some make interesting food for thought.

 

 

To  Read Or Not To Read :

For those who think this is a religious book, it is not.  It is simply a fictional adaptation of a Biblical story, the framework of which is used as the plot but the richness of detail and characterization are from the author’s deep well of imagination.  What makes it equally worthy of attention is the fact that the story evolves from the perspective of women mentioned but otherwise not conferred with much importance in the Bible as the men were.  Given the limited power Hebrew women had at the time of Jacob, it is quite engaging to note how these women employ ways to circumvent male dominance to get their way.

At the end of the novel, the author notes that this book is only the first of a series on these four women and Jacob.  Card states:  “…the story has four very strong female characters who needed separate development..”  Thus, this story will perhaps be broken down into a series of books, the number of which has not been specified.  Currently, he is working on “The Wives of Israel“,  the sequel without an established release date yet as of the moment.

It has been five years since “Rachel & Leah” ‘s publication date.  If you’re willing to wait, pick up this book and be treated to a  good imaginative version of half the Biblical story.  While only half the story, the conclusion is still pretty well tied off despite its broad hint of a sequel.

 

In A Nutshell :

Although not as great as Card’s earlier “Women of Genesis” books, namely “Sarah” and “Rebekah“,  “Rachel and Leah” isn’t very far off the good writing mark either (considering it is only half or maybe even one-fourth of the whole  story).  With its solid characters and Card’s sharp insight into the female mind, the novel takes a good second place to his earlier ones in the Genesis series.

 

 

My Mark :   Very, Very Good

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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With his “Women of Genesis” series, Orson Scott Card tackles the challenge of bringing ancient Biblical women  to believable life.  The author directs attention to those extraordinary women of their time, giving them prominence where the Old Testament had minimized them and bestowing on them a relevancy to readers of today.

The Author :   Orson Scott Card

Publisher: Forge Books; 1st edition (November 28, 2002)

ISBN-10: 076534128X

ISBN-13: 978-0765341280

No. of pages : 416

The Story :

Motherless at a young age, a Hebrew maiden, Rebekah,  matures early to become a beautiful, practical, intelligent, and headstrong girl with an unwavering faith in God.

As per the Biblical story,  a group of travelers spy Rebekah coming to the well.  The master among them asks for a drink, to which she readily obliges.  It is Eliezer,  a servant from the great house of Abraham who had tasked him to seek a wife for his son, Isaac, heir to the Holy Scriptures, the birthright.  Eliezer had prayed to the Lord to help point out Isaac’s would-be bride by sending him a woman who would do what was considered improper : talking to a stranger at the well; drawing water for his drink; and pouring water for his animals as well.  For Eliezer, God answers his prayers with this beautiful Hebrew maiden who does all what he had determined as signs of His choice.

Immediately, Eliezer negotiates with Bethuel, Rebekah’s father, for her hand in marriage to Isaac.  Rebekah regards the honor of being the chosen bride  for the heir of the birthright and therefore Abraham’s future daughter-in-law, as God’s will for her. Thus, she leaves her father, Bethuel, to take a coveted place in Abraham’s promised destiny of becoming the Father of Nations.

However, her awe of Abraham’s status in the eyes of the Lord quickly falls to disappointment when her headstrong and practical  personality clashes with his.  She also comes to struggle with Isaac’s low self-esteem and his tension-filled relationship with his father.  In a cultural milieu where women are subject to the will their fathers, brothers, or husband, Rebekah learns to adapt and make her way so her opinions and beliefs could be acknowledged by the men in her life.

Several years into the marriage, Rebekah’s prayers for children are answered when she conceives and gives birth to twins, Esau and Jacob.  God speaks to her through a prophecy foretelling that her second-born son, Jacob, would inherit the birthright from Isaac.  In ancient Hebrew society in which inheritances are  strictly handed  to firstborn sons, this was a gravely disturbing revelation.   As her children grow,  Esau exhibits athleticism and rashness and quickly becomes Isaac’s and Abraham’s  favorite.  Thoughtful, introspective and responsible Jacob becomes his mother’s.

All through her life, Rebekah’s character is marked by her intense faith and love of God.  Thus,  her reverance for the Scriptures  encompasses a  strong protective regard for them.   It is her belief that the heir of the Holy Scripture or birthright should be the son who is most likely to ensure its sanctity and preservation through the generations.   Esau , being a more physically oriented man, is wholly uninterested in the scrolls, while Jacob reads and studies them.   With her strong conviction of the worthiness of Jacob and her realization that the prophecy should come to pass, Rebekah contrives to fool Isaac, by now,  old and blind,  into conferring the blessing on Jacob.  She succeeds and so we have a story that segues into a story of Jacob, which is dealt with in a separate book.

The Review :

This is a lovely story of faith and fortitude against cultural odds.  The lot of women in the Old Testament is often a subservient one in a very patriarchal culture.  Women in the Bible, therefore, have mostly served as supporting roles to the Biblical male stars.  With very few exceptions like Eve,  they are often overlooked and their importance denigrated in Biblical history.  (But although Eve has a prominent role in the Genesis, it is a dark one,  that of being credited to have caused man’s downfall and his original sin.)

Orson Scott Card has successfully taken this biblical one-dimensionally drawn female character, Rebekah,  and given her a very plausible personality that explains her actions and her daring decisions, that of leaving her family and traveling miles to marry a man she has never met,  deceiving her husband and betraying her firstborn son of the birthright which by religious and cultural laws was Esau’s to inherit.   Card’s  Rebekah seems like a woman out of our century; but then, it may be because a strong woman’s nature may not be all that inherently different despite time and change.

What is astonishing, though, is Card’s depiction of two very important Genesis characters : Abraham and Isaac.  He delves into what must have been a traumatizing experience  for the sacrificial Isaac and imagines what his psyche might have been after almost being served up to God.   He creatively comes up with a realistic probability that Isaac, who had to face near death by the hand of his own father,  must have been emotionally scarred for life.  So, he  takes this premise and depicts Isaac as suffering from low self-esteem with constant craving for approval from Abraham.  His poor self image carries on to affect how he relates with his sons, Jacob and Esau,  his father,  Abraham and his wife, Rebekah. 

In Card’s story, Abraham, despite being God’s chosen one, is still subject to human frailties.  As an ordinary man, he has high regard for manliness (meaning physical prowess, brashness, fearlessness—traits of a “true man”) and thus cannot help but be disappointed in his mild-mannered, introverted, quiet heir and proud of his other son, Ishmael, who exhibits all these enviable qualities.

With all these human flaws and strengths imbued in his characters, Card relates the dynamics of relationships within this ancient Biblical family, producing a very interesting humanistic story that brings the Bible’s account into contemporary understanding and empathy.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I must commend the author for his vivid imaginations of the story behind the bland skeletal account written in the Bible.   Indeed,  his purpose  must be to influence the reader to see beyond the Biblical story and actually appreciate the trials and tribulations those Biblical people must have gone through in their love and absolute faith in the Lord, meriting their lives’ immortalization for thousands of years in the Holy Scripture.  The reader is persuaded to see Rebekah, Isaac, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, et. al. as “real people” whose actions and choices were driven by the same factors that drive many of us today.

The intense faith in God by the characters whose lives were dedicated to serving His will is palpable in the novel and is quite humbling if one compares  it to today’s degree of faith.

This novel may lead you to a much better appreciation of the Old Testament stories.   As an engaging read, this should be in your list of fruitful things to pass your time with.

My Mark :  Outstanding

Since I’ve been putting in serious hours in the gym, working to regain my long lost endurance, I haven’t been curling up much in my reading chair.  Sadly, I’ve neglected my TBR pile and this blog after dragging my exhausted self directly to bed night after night.

This book I’ve  picked up, however, was perfect for my frame of mind last week.  I didn’t want to wade through serious text;  so, this little gossip of a novel was just the  perfect shallow read for my brain to happily coast along with.

Author :  Imogen Edward-Jones

First Publication Date   :  2006

First Publisher :  Bantam Books

This Edition’s Publication Date :  2007

This Edition’s Publisher :  Corgi Books

No of  pages :  379

A  frank and often hilarious look up at fashion industry’s underpants, “Fashion Babylon” is an intriguing non-fictional account in a six-month period that marks a designer’s life in between creating collections.  Imogen Edwards-Jones and Anonymous ( the insider who spills the juicy tidbits about our revered designers and celebs), recounts the world of  glamour through a fictitious designer.

What makes the novel so intriguing is that the gossipy anecdotes are all true!  This is a work of non-fiction and only a few names are changed to protect the identities.  But, there are a lot of real names in there, names we do know as fashion icons— Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs, to name a few.   Oh, and the book gives us a pretty good idea of how things really work in the world of high fashion and the mind-boggling lifestyle endemic to it.  It is a wonder how many survive the almost daily booze and drugs needed to keep up with all the stresses of deadlines, backstabbing, career and financial precariousness over a single mediocre collection, etc.

Anything and everything  — clothes, accessories, pets, food, hobbies, people– fall into two categories: “cool” or very last season.  “Coolness” is a very unpredictable status which can turn into “last season” in a blink of an eye if the wrong sort of people get their hands on the trend:

“…Stella McCartney’s over-the-knee non-leather boots are a case in point.  They were worn by Madonna on Monday, Posh on Wednesday, and a footballer’s wife on the Friday.  In fashion terms they were dead and buried within a week.

Half of the reason why companies like Balenciaga are always churning out new versions of the same bag is because they are constantly being killed off by the wrong sort of celebrity.  You can imagine how much Roland must have wanted to slash his wrists when he saw Countdown’s Carol Vorderman wearing his dress.  It went from Scarlet Johansson via Cameron Diaz and Rachel Weisz to Carol in three months.  As a result, Scarlett is now running miles from the Galaxy dress.  In the end, I suppose that is the price of having a hit collection.” —- pp. 202 -203

In fashion, image is everything.  That is why…

“…Thousands of pounds of expensive, beautiful clothes are destroyed every year by their own designers rather than being sold somewhere that might tarnish the brand.  Fashion may be about beauty and aesthetic and aspiration, but it is also about the brand.  Brand is everything.  Tarnish the brand and what are you left with?  Why pay  a thousand pounds for a dress that you know costs less than a hundred pounds to make?  Why buy a Chanel bag when there is one at Accessorize that is just as charming?  So, rather than helping out those less fortunate than ourselves, we guard our image and burn the lot.” … p.105

“…You might be starving, drunk and high , with dried-up kidneys and the liver of a fifty-five-year-old alcoholic, but just as long as you can make it down the catwalk looking fabulous, who cares?”…p. 81

And the pervasive exhaustion of it all is partly because…

“Drugs are endemic in this insudstry because it is all about make-believe…You can’t really talk seriously about fashion–there is nothing to talk about.  You can’t just say I have done this great skirt this season.   It’s all about dressing this bitch because she’s cool and she’s going to help my brand.  If she goes out in this dress she is going to give me some kudos, so I have to get up her arse, and then I have to be nice and suck cok with some journalist, and then I have to be nice to this buyer to help my brand.  It is all so soul-destroying….You don’t make friends in this industry.  There is no camaraderie.  There is no one trying to make real connections.  People are parasites.  They do the fashion rubbish talk.  That’s why people are high all the time, to help them escape it all.  They’d rather not confront the reality.   We all live on fresh air, so it has to be high-octane and fun otherwise we would all sit here and say, “I’m not making any money.  What the fuck am I doing?”….p. 181

If you want the insider tidbits on fashion’s characters, this book is chock-full of it.  If you’re a hard-core fashionista, perhaps a lot would be old hat to you by now.  But to the less glamorous of us,  some will be just downright funny and shocking at the same time.  Did you know that…

“Thiery Mugler has an atelier where there is a glass shower by the gym so anyone who is in the gym can work out while watching someone hosing themselves down.”

“…Sienna Miller gets seeded by nearly everyone.  In fact, the girl gets something like twenty-six handbags a month, and they are worth between £2,000 and  £30,000 each.  An estate car comes to her house every week loaded down with dresses, bags, coats, hats, make-up, body products and, more weirdly, candles.”  — p. 134

“Gwyneth Paltrow can’t cope with all the stuff she gets sent out.  She often has parties at her house where she invites all her mates over to go through the piles of freebies on the instruction that they can take what they want.” — p. 134

There’s never a dull moment with this book in hand.  Lightly written with lots of contemporary droll English wit,  Fashion Babylon will delight every gossipy heart that loves fashion and celebrities.  Plus the astonishing revelations behind the backroom of couture is guaranteed to keep you marvelously glued in between covers.

My Mark :  Fabulous!