Monday, December 30, 2002

My Name is Mary: The Story of the Mother of Jesus by Denise Sawyer

Still Waters Publishers, 097142764X, $12.95

As a writer, I personally would never presume to write a fictional account of biblical events in the first person narrative style. Who am I to attempt a recreation of the greatest and most important events in Christian history as seen perhaps through the eyes of an apostle, much less the Mother of God? Who am I to put words in such mouths, even from a fictional viewpoint? While it's not something I consider sacreligious, I feel that few, if any, could tell the story as well as the authors of the Gospels.

To read a book about Mary, as told by Mary, can either be an exercise in exasperation or enjoyment, depending on your beliefs. It was with some skepticism, I admit, that I picked up Denise Sawyer's My Name is Mary, a slim gift book-sized tale of the earthly life of Christ as seen through the eyes of His mother. Sawyer, a recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, acknowledges in her introduction that exposure to Mary was sparse while growing up in a mainline Protestant church. It was not until joining her current church that she became aware of the Orthodox (and Catholic) devotions to the Blessed Virgin, devotions often ignored and/or misunderstood by evangelicals. The idea for Mary, Sawyer writes, came during an Easter meditation as a question came to mind that many a Christian has no doubt asked at one time or another: what would it have been like to have seen the events in Christ's life.

Mary is an effective, dialogue-free retelling of the major events in the Gospels, inspirational in its simplicity and to the point. "My name is Mary," she says, as if addressing an audience. "In the years to come, I fear that I will become almost a myth to some or perhaps to others of little importance in these events." To Sawyer's credit, Mary is written as many would likely see her - a modest woman, aware of her role and always yielding to the accomplishments and words of her Son. Sawyer's style evokes a brief yet interesting view of these times.

The major events of Christ's life as depicted in the Gospels comprise the backbone of the story; through Mary's point of view the reader relives Christ's birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection with the added emotion only a mother could share. As Mary speaks of her Son growing up among friends and under the tutelage of Joseph it does satisfy a desire to know more of Jesus's life as a youth, as well as the daily life of the Holy Family. Points of debate (among them Mary's perpetual virginity and Christ's "brothers and sisters") are also touched upon here in a manner no Christian - Catholic, Orthodox, or otherwise - would find offensive.

Despite the titular credit, Mary insists Christ is the main character in the book and in our lives, as He was in hers. As a work of fiction based upon Truth, My Name is Mary is a touching tribute to a woman who definitely should never be forgotten.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Seed of the Dogwood Tree by Gregory Cicio

American Book Publishing, 1589820061, $22

Michael Sinclair and his best friend Bruce are archaeology students with one desire - to make that one historical discovery to propel them into a stratosphere of fame, riches, and beautiful women interested in archaeologists. As Seed of the Dogwood Tree opens, both young men are hoping the time is nigh as they happen upon some ancient letters during an excavation of the mines at Mendips in England. Convinced the author is Baldwin I, King of Jerusalem during the Crusades, Michael and Bruce enlist the help of Bruce's uncle for a second, secret excavation in hope of finding something else.

This second trip yields, Michael believes, an even greater treasure - the Cross of Calvary and a jar of what appears to be blood, perhaps a sampling of the very Blood Christ shed for mankind. While Bruce is ready to celebrate, Michael decides to confirm their findings with carbon dating tests at the laboratory where his sister Liz works. Though Liz and her colleagues are engrossed in genetic studies which may one day aid couples having difficulty conceiving children, they are only too happy to take on the side work.

Things, as the reader might expect, do not go as planned for the young discoverers. There are no parades or tours of the talk show circuit, but instead mysterious and dangerous circumstances that lead to several deaths. Michael is soon plunged in the middle of a millennia-old conspiracy involving various secretive orders (seems nearly everybody but the Girl Scouts are participants) who all have designs on the same thing: to control the sequence of events Michael set in motion with his discovery, namely the coming of the Antichrist. Though not of a strong faith, Michael soon comes to find solace in Christ at this time, mainly through the occasional pub wisdom of a man named Gabriel.

In the realm of 'end-times' novels, Seed of the Dogwood Tree works in that it offers a unique twist to the story - author Cicio offers a fascinating fictional account with the cloning and genetic angles. Oftentimes in stories such as these the Antichrist is simply born or appears as an adult from nowhere, whereas here the reader is given a beginning that harkens back somewhat to the works of Aldous Huxley.

That said, Seed of the Dogwood Tree is not without its flaws, albeit minor ones. A long time gap towards the end of the book may leave the reader wanting for more closure for some of the supporting players (Gabriel, in particular) as well as with a few plot questions. Despite this, Seed of the Dogwood Tree does make for a dramatic faith thriller.

Monday, December 2, 2002

Godcountry by Colleen Drippe

Novel Books, Inc., 1591050022, $5.50

Eduardo Sabat was once a slave. Because he does not know the codes which will remove it, he still wears the shackle-like bracelet that once bound him to servitude in a pagan land, and which continues to remind him of his past. Though first instinct for a freed man would be to distance himself as far as possible from the place of slavery, it is not Eduardo's instinct. Now a for-hire mercenary partnered with the hardy Otto Zeller, Eduardo willingly treks back into the desolate colony called Godcountry, motivated by the job but not entirely aware of the consequences.

While the risks involved in returning to Godcountry are given, Eduardo is surprised by the attempts to foil his mission of returning the captured Hermadon Pelanot - son of the colony of Hithia's leader - to the custody of his stern aunt. His estranged wife is mysteriously murdered, and soon attempts on his own life follow. Nevertheless, Eduardo presses onward with the help of a motley party which includes the devout Christian Wolfbane and a crew of interplanetary religious known as the Star Brothers, whose faith gives Eduardo something to ponder as he discovers the threat to his life is closer than he actually realizes.

Godcountry is hard science fiction blended nicely with elements of faith and humanity. This story of a bleak future plagued by religious persecution and interplanetary greed bolstered through human slavery doesn't offer an immediate resolution to any problems, but offers the reader an intense look at how faith can exist in a hostile society and therefore offer a future of hope.