Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: Return to Me

Return to Me. Lynn Austin. 2013. Bethany House. 464 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I definitely enjoyed Lynn Austin's Chronicle of the Kings series. I was thrilled to learn that she was writing more biblical fiction. Return To Me is the first in her Restoration Chronicles. The novel spans at least two decades. It opens with the good news: the exiles are being allowed to return to Jerusalem; they are even encouraged to rebuild the temple! The good news is received with joy and thanksgiving by some. But not by all. Many have grown good and comfortable in Babylon. Many would rather stay in Babylon where life is good, really good, and definitely known. This "good news" definitely divides families. Some choosing to stay; some choosing to go; some saying, you go now, we'll come later.

Return to Me has two main narrators: Iddo, a Levite, a priest, and his young grandson, Zechariah. These two are really the only believers in their family--at least for most of the novel. Iddo leaves most of his children and grandchildren behind in Babylon, but, his call to return home, to return to Jerusalem is so strong, that he'll do anything, risk anything, to obey. One of the things he risks is the wrath of his wife. His wife, Dinah, does NOT want to return, does NOT want to leave her children because some God that she only half-heartedly believes in some of the time has spoken this or that promise, does NOT want to leave her good life behind to go to some place she doesn't even care about and build some old temple. She follows her husband out of duty, not love. Zechariah is Iddo's grandson. He's just turned thirteen or so when the novel opens. He is EXCITED about returning. He is even leaving his parents behind. He is following God's call and is completely trusting God to make it all work for good.

The women characters in Return to Me, for the most part, annoyed me. While it is true that both characters--Iddo's wife and Zechariah's future wife (Yael)--have found redemption and grace by the end, and that may be the whole point of the book, God showing grace to otherwise worthless people, I still found them to be incredibly obnoxious.  Yael, for example, worships several Babylonian gods. She is a seer, a sorceress. She hides this idol worship from some, but not all, of her community. She makes easy friends with the Samaritans because she reads the stars and predicts the future and worships a good number of gods. Dinah, Iddo's wife, commits adultery when she's angry at her husband and blaming him for something he had absolutely nothing to do with. "But he promised he'd take me back to Babylon." I think the part that annoyed me most was his response, how he was actually willing to go back to Babylon to pacify his wife and keep her, to give into her whining demands. Of course, she came to her senses and experienced a call of her own, I suppose, before that happened. But still.

I found Return to Me to be an interesting read. I didn't necessarily "love" the characters, but I thought they were all very human. I think the book is challenging and thought provoking. The characters that I found most annoying and obnoxious were the very ones in need of grace, forgiveness, and compassion. It would be easy to say, well, forget about those people, God can't use them, God couldn't possibly love them, just look at them, and, yet, this story illustrates "the impossible." Grace is unmerited. Grace is not given to people who have earned it, who are good and nice and easy to get along with, who are moral and upstanding. Grace is for desperate people covered inside and out with the scars of sins past and present.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


Monica said...

I have this one started but had to finish some other things. Looking forward to getting back at it!

Susanne said...

I've read Lynn Austin's contemporary novels and really enjoyed them. Your review is making me want to give her historical novels a try too.

Jessica Snell said...

Wow, sounds like she took an already interesting time and really made it personally compelling. Cool!