Most Christians are familiar with the story of Naomi, and her famous daughter in law, Ruth. Naomi is one of the few women whose story is told at some length in the pages of the Christian Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. But as with so many other stories, many a reader has often wondered what it would be like to be there, living in Naomi’s day. The story as found in Scripture is evocative and powerful, but it hints at so much more.
Storytellers have long sought to embellish and add life to the stories of the Bible. Walter Wangerin Jr. takes up his pen to weave a rich tale around the life of Naomi. His novel Naomi and Her Daughters covers many Biblical accounts and situates the characters in the story firmly in a believing Jewish context. And in his storytelling, Wangerin transports us to life in Palestine circa 1100 B.C.
Without giving away the plotline, I can say he imagines Naomi’s life as a spiritual leader in the village of Bethlehem. He sees her adopting another daughter, whose story is recounted in another Old Testament book. He also recounts the tale of Boaz, finding him in other tales of Scripture. As the Biblical book of Ruth is situated before the accounts in Samuel and Kings, the mysterious period of the Judges must be its background. That era had its ups and downs and Wangerin traces the paths of the main characters through that turbulent period.
The book is a story of faith in a covenant keeping God — and of long periods of doubt. It’s a story of redemption and grace, and also the miseries of evil and suffering. War and peace, love and despair, bravery and cowardice, honor and depravity — the juxtapositions of human experience find their place in this story. The technique the author uses of bouncing back and forth between the past and the present helps the reader experience the story vicariously with all its ups and downs.
Wangerin doesn’t shy away from reading in between the lines and drawing out implications from the Scripture accounts. He puts psalms and Scripture promises in the mouths of the characters as well, and succeeds in bringing that day and age to life. In so doing, he runs the risk of interpreting accounts differently than the reader, but we will grant him this privilege. The history most likely didn’t play out as he envisions it, and at times the tale is more earthy than some readers will want. But I believe he has captured the heart and spirit of the tale of Naomi most powerfully.
Naomi’s tale has much relevance for our own day. Hers wasn’t a rosy life free of thorns. Hers wasn’t a happy-go-lucky faith detached from the realities of life in a sin-cursed and ever so fallen world. Her story is meant to inspire strong faith in a covenant-keeping God. Christians share Naomi’s God and can have Naomi’s faith. Sharing Naomi’s life story will help us find that faith, and Naomi and Her Daughters will help us in this quest.
Disclaimer: A pre-published galley of this book was provided by Zondervan Publishing for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.