In my endless quest for good Biblical fiction I picked up this novel about a Biblical character I haven’t read a book about before: the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well in John, chapter 4. On the one hand, the author seems to have had her work cut out for her in spinning the tale of a woman with only one brief Biblical appearance out into a book-length narrative. On the other hand, the woman’s brief bio as encapsulated by Jesus: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (John 4:18), practically cries out to be expanded into a longer story.
Patty Froese Ntihemuka has done a good job with this story, making her main character, whom she names Nilloufar, believable and sympathetic. The research is excellent and the setting comes vividly to life. The book is, perhaps, a little too short, so that in places the author resorts to telling rather than showing, especially towards the end. However, in just 156 pages she has managed to make not only the woman at the well but each of her five husbands, her lover, her sister-in-law and her best friend into real and rounded characters, which is quite a feat. This novel does a particularly good job of giving us a sense of the multicultural flavour of Israel and Samaria in the time of Jesus, where a Greco-Roman culture exists alongside the more traditional Jewish culture and religion — Nilloufar’s best friend is a slave woman, Pia, who insists that a woman really needs a goddess like those of the Greeks. Little touches like this helped me feel like I was really getting a glimpse into another place and time, as well as into the life of a real woman whose life was touched by the Man at the well.