MARY, WOMAN OF SORROWS – Reviewed by Judy Croome

A sweet book, with an interesting premise, this historical novel fictionalises the lives of two prominent women in the King James Bible – Mary of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene – in an attempt to dispel negative portrayals of women in the bible.

For the right reader, this novel may bring a sense of enlightenment or empowerment.

Unfortunately, I’m not the right reader for this book. I prefer my spiritual reading to be less doctrine and more philosophical enquiry. Too often, I felt I was reading Christian dogma thinly disguised as fictional dialogue.

I also find the current social trend to deify a woman’s ability to give birth spiritually dangerous: if women come to believe that giving birth makes them superior to men, then society has only exchanged patriarchal oppression for matriarchal oppression, rather than moving towards a true equality in which neither gender nor race nor any other external difference matters in the search for an egalitarian relationship with the Divine.

This novel abounds with contentious statements such as “Women have the power to conceive life so there is no greater power in the human race…men are jealous and terrified of that power to love…” I find it difficult to believe in a feminine “love” that seeks to claim its power by acting out the very thing it repudiates—the author later states that men are “pitiful” and “weak” for blaming women for their own sin of arrogance. Men tend to be portrayed as “the enemy” in this story, with the various relationships between man and woman often experienced as a struggle for power, rather than as a journey towards accepting gender differences as irrelevant to the human capacity to experience any form of love (parental, sexual, platonic etc) as part of an unconditional relationship with the Divine.

Other issues I had with the story included the didactic tone, the use of clichés and anachronisms (“quit” and “holler” being two favourites) and the stilted dialogue, which often read like direct quotes from the Bible. The constant use of capital letters for any reference to (the fictionalised) Jesus was also distracting and increased the perception that this was more doctrine than debate.

However, there were times when the author’s sincerity did shine through. The scenes dealing with the women’s grief—Mary of Nazareth’s maternal grief at being unable to save her son from suffering and Mary Magdalene’s grief at the loss of her children—were both quite heart-wrenching. The fictionalised romance between Paul and Mary Magdalene provided an interesting twist to the story.

I’d recommend this book for strongly Christian women who seek affirmation that their “power” rests in God-granted ability to bear children, the state of motherhood and the capacity to love their children. Anyone seeking to explore a broader spiritual connection based on a unique individuality that transcends the “gender wars” will not find it in this novel.

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