Lent is an appropriate time to slow down and reflect on the story of Jesus. This year I decided to turn from text-like studies and relax with a Christian novel. For me, the obvious choice was Dianne G. Sagan’s The Fisherman’s Wife.
The chapters are short, ideal for tucking one or two between morning devotionals and the start of my workday.
That was my plan, but before I knew it, I’d turned about fifty pages, and later, with a few chores complete, I reheated my coffee and read the book through its Afterword.
The storyline mixes the well-known Biblical account of Jesus, his ministry, crucifixion and resurrection with a fictional version. Perhaps vision is a better word than version. Ms Sagan’s vision of Biblical times delves into the day-to-day lives of people who knew Jesus of Nazareth.
We meet Johanna, who with her mother, listen to a conversation between her father and a friend. The two men who haggle over Johanna’s dowry don’t consider love as a factor. Custom does not permit interference from Johanna when her father holds firm to the bride price the other man says is too high. Within a short time, Johanna’s emotions jump from despair at the thought of not sharing her life with the man she loves to ecstasy. Johanna and Simon will marry in a year.
Celebration defines the mood of the next several chapters except for a reminder of the times. The Jewish people are controlled by King Herod, a puppet to Rome. The ever-present Roman soldiers, even when unseen, cast a pall on the inhabitants of Capernaum.
Despite Roman occupation, these God-centered people continue their religious culture, as well as customs passed down through generations. Curiosity about those customs may be what initially keeps the reader turning pages.
It is obvious that Ms. Sagan has thoroughly researched her material. We join the wedding preparations and celebration. Later, we walk with Johanna, her sister and mother to the market who, like shoppers today make purchases, and also admire goods displayed for wealthy patrons. As we see women carry on with their daily responsibilities, we identify with these hard-working, faithful women. Although they lived in another era, human emotions remain the same.
Deeper into the story, we understand their fear of the Roman soldiers who will crucify a dozen innocent men in retribution for one act done against them. They will kill an entire family for the suspected misdeed of one member or one member’s friend.
Johanna had witnessed their cruelty first hand. But seeing their gruesome acts was only one of Johanna’s nightmares.
As years pass, Johanna a once-joyful bride grows sullen. Will she ever know peace again? Shamed by birthing still-born children, how will she pull her marriage back together? How will Simon provide for his family if he continues to experience a poor fishing season? What will happen to Simon if the Roman’s arrest him for associating with Jesus, a man they call a zealot? How will she survive?
The Fisherman’s Wife is an excellent commentary on the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, as well as a story of imperfect people whose faith wanes and swells, and eventually sustains them.
Dianne is presently working on a third in her series about women in biblical times. Learn more about Dianne and her writing at firstname.lastname@example.org and flashfiction5.com.
(c) 2013, Bernice W. Simpson