Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fiction Worth Reading

I don't read much fiction anymore.  It's not that I still don't drool over the brightly colored dust jackets and crave the time to transport myself into another time and place.  It's simply that for me, reading for pleasure can become a sin.  Yep, you heard me right--a sin.

I love reading historical fiction, suspense novels, and mysteries with such an intensity that I've been known to simply drop everything as I gobble up the pages like a half-starved animal.  Ask my mother.  She'll tell you about my days in middle school when she forbade me from reading more than one book per week because I wasn't getting anything else done around the house.

Even now as a grown up with oodles of adult responsibilities, I still struggle against ditching my priorities and choosing, instead, to escape into the pages of another book.  I turn down my children's requests for another game; I let the laundry remain unfolded; and I substitute my reading of fiction for the reading of God's Word. 

Knowing this, when I do bring a piece of fiction into my house, it's a big deal.  If it won't support my spiritual walk but draw me from the straight path, I might need to leave that temptation at the library.

This past month, though, I did just that--agreeing to review Lynn Austin's newest novel Return to Me, which begins her new series entitled The Restoration Chronicles.

Having never read Austin's other novels, I was hesitant to commit my time to reading 400+ pages of someone else's imagination, but the front cover's image of a Jewish priest blowing a shofar into the rising sun tipped the scales. 

In Return to Me, Austin follows a family living in Babylon at the time when King Cyrus takes over the nation and decrees the Jewish exiles can return to their homeland and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

After Cyrus' proclamation is issued, Iddo, his wife Dinah, and their young grandson Zechariah (who will grow to become the minor prophet of Scripture) must choose to return to Jerusalem, even when many of their family and most of the Jewish people refuse to return home.

The characters arrive in Jerusalem and immediately begin facing intense persecution at the hands of the Samaritans and others who remained in the land.  Austin really brings history to life as she paints vivid images of their struggles just to survive, of the constant danger they faced (even to simply go to the well for water!), and of their heart-wrenching discouragement when their efforts to rebuild the temple were stopped.  She also demonstrates quite well how the Babylonian beliefs from their exile followed the remnant back home to Jerusalem and how many of them accepted the pagan ways of their neighbors simply to accomplish peace.

My ladies Bible study group has studied this time period in depth.  We have spent months and years going through each of the prophets as well as the Kings and Chronicles, learning about Judah and Israel's sin leading up to the exile, the two waves of exiles being deported to Babylon, and the return after seventy years.  With this background, I know enough to say Austin's account does a good job of lining up with the historical details of Scripture.

What's interesting is I only thought I understood what happened in history after studying the Scriptures, but after reading this fictionalized account, I feel I can empathize with the returning exiles' struggles to remain pure and holy in the face of constant idol worship around them, to follow God's commands even in the face of such great opposition, to fear God instead of man, and to be broken hearted over the tearing in their families when some chose to follow God and others did not.  Sounds like the same struggles Christians encounter today, huh?

This book receives my wholehearted recommendation as a "must read."  I can hardly wait for the second book in the series, Keepers of the Covenant, scheduled to release Fall 2014.  As with most historical fiction books, expect this one to start out slow, but once you figure out the who's who and become invested in your characters' lives, it's a page turner that teaches without preaching about following God as it tells the story.

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