(A Book in the Canaan Trilogy)
By Marek Halter
Three Rivers Press, 2004, 310 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - December 8, 2010
Anyone expecting to find the biblical Sarah in this novel or even the imaginative elaborations that the rabbis placed in Midrashim, will be disappointed, because everything about Sarah in this tale are not in these documents. This does not hurt the Halter version in any way. His notion of Sarah's personality and how she may have lived and acted is interesting.
We are introduced to Sarah, or actually Sarai, as she was known in her youth, for the first time in the Bible when Scripture says that her husband Abraham, called Abram at the time, began a journey toward the land that God would show him, which later turned out to be Canaan, now called Israel. The Bible says that he took his wife Sarai with him, but nothing more is told about her at this time. The rabbis debate exactly when the event occurred, but virtually all agree that it was when Abram was 70 or 75 years old. This would make Sarai, who the Bible states was ten years his junior, 60 or 65. The first incident when Sarai is described is when the Bible states that she was barren and she gave her husband her maid Hagar so that he could have a child through her. Traditional chronology places this event when Sarai was about 75 years old.
Halter begins his tale when Sarai first began to menstruate, when she was twelve, when her father decides to have her married. Sarai does not want to marry the man her father chose. Halter introduces Abram during the same year, and there is love at first sight. Sarai's father and brother make sure that Sarai will not marry Abram and she is forced to become a dancing pagan priestess for some years. Abram returns, helps her escape, and takes her as his wife.
Halter describes Sarai as a strong willed woman. Her relationship with Abram is ideal, although she does not think that God is speaking to him and uses an idol. The couple has marital difficulties when she gives her maid Hagar to Abram.
Halter's rewriting the biblical tale of the near sacrifice of their son Isaac is also interesting. According to Scripture, Sarah, as she was then called, did not know that Abraham was taking Isaac to sacrifice him to God, and an angel stopped him from doing so. Halter writes that Sarah saw her husband leaving their tent with Isaac, figured out what he was up to, followed them unobserved from a distance, and she, not an angel, stopped her husband from killing their son.