By Lydia Eberhardt
Jews tell the story of Esther every year when they celebrate Purim. Christians have relished telling and retelling the adventurous account of the girl who became a queen and saved her people. Eberhardt enjoyed reading the various retellings in prose form, but realized something: No one had “updated” the tale, setting it in the modern day. This book is the fruit of that realization.
In many ways, Eberhardt succeeds in her attempt to update the tale. She’s forced to add some fiction to allow a Persia analogue to exist, so she moves the action forward into the near future, after the “Great Global Wars.” Because the action happens “tomorrow,” she’s allowed a certain freedom in national matters, but still grounds the everyday matters in modern mundanities. Soldiers and cars, computer tablets and food all work together to create a vivid world.
Her characters sing. The central chapters, which introduce King Xavier and Esther during the contest to determine the next queen, work incredibly well. Xavier becomes a realistic, complex ruler trying to lead his people well. Esther reveals herself as an uncertain woman who strives to do her best. I delighted in the romance that develops between the two of them.
If there’s a single failing of this retelling, it’s that it is too short. We barely get to know the characters before the whole thing is done. Tension is introduced and then resolved in the space of a few pages. Haman and his hatred of the Jews lie at the heart of the Biblical account of Esther. In this retelling, Hayden attempts to exterminate the believers as well, but it all seems so rushed. In the biblical account, Esther’s approach to the king is fraught with danger. Here, it passes by so quickly that I felt very little tension. I felt more like I was reading an outline and not a novel itself. It’s really too bad, because I enjoyed the many elements. I wish they had been allowed more time to breathe!
I especially would have appreciated a greater canvas for this story because I like these sorts of imaginings. By moving a true biblical account forward in time, we’re able to examine it in a different light and come to appreciate all the more what God was doing in those Old Testament times. The slight sci-fi touches (and they are slight) allow for greater creativity while keeping the proceedings locked in the familiar everyday. I want to read more Bible stories like this… and I want them to have the room to breathe so I can appreciate them even more.
So, Lydia, if you get the chance – tell more of this story! You’ve got an audience in me!
(In a completely “Judge the book by its cover!” moment, the watermarks on the interior pages make the entire product seem incredibly luxuriant. Yes, I just called the pages of a book luxuriant.)