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Sarah    by Orson Scott Card order for
by Orson Scott Card
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Forge, 2001 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sarah is the first of a Women of Genesis series, a retelling of the life of Sarah, wife of Abraham in the Old Testament. She is introduced as ten year old Sarai weaving the bridal dress of her sister Qira. In Card's account, they are the children of the rightful (but dispossessed) king of Ur. Qira is sought in marriage by a powerful desert clan, with Lot as the groom. Their emissary, Lot's young uncle Abram, is struck by Sarai, and vows to return in ten years to marry her, despite being informed that she is marked to be a priestess of Asherah. Sarai waits for him, saying on her eventual marriage ... 'God has noticed me... Or I would not be so blessed, to go from the house of such a father to the house of such a husband.'

Aside from making Sarah a princess and the long-suffering sister of Lot's wife Qira, the author sticks to the biblical account - though his interpretations of the politics of the times and the backgrounds to some events add subtlety and depth. I especially enjoyed his depiction of the Egyptian Pharaoh Neb-Towi-Re - 'a weak-chinned, flaccid, narrow-faced, cheery-looking fellow' who was much smarter than he seemed - and of course of Sarai and Abram themselves. Sarai is spirited, true to herself, and one who takes pride in her work. Abram is more distant, an early patriarch, but endearing in the mistakes that he makes in his marriage. He teaches Sarai faith and she holds to it, through long years of infertility, while she longs to give Abram children.

Just as interesting as the relationship between Abram and Sarai is that between the latter and her handmaiden Hagar. At first it appears to be the easy out of a grateful friendship and loyalty inspired by Sarai's taking Hagar out of Egypt and into her household. But that changes as the author interpolates the effects of enslavement and brutalization on the handmaid's character, and the slow understanding of it in Sarai. He also does a nice job of the decadence of Sodom, with fascinating details of its destruction.

If there was any disappointment for me as a reader, it was perhaps that this story stayed too closely within the confines of the biblical account. But I don't think that Orson Scott Card could write anything I would not enjoy reading, and I was absorbed by this account of Sarah's life - a tale of great love and of great faith. I look forward to the next in the series - about Rebecca, the wife of Sarah and Abraham's son Isaac.

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