When it comes to Biblical fiction, some characters and subjects are easier to dive into than others. Given the aura of devotion and mystique surrounding Mary, the mother of Jesus, she’s a pretty daunting character to tackle.
Patty Froese Ntihemuka doesn’t hesitate, but dives in with a story that focuses on the shame and degradation Mary would have faced as an unwed mother. One of the best things Ntihemuka does in her historical fiction is capture the attitudes and values of the era she’s writing about; she doesn’t fall into the trap of transposing twenty-first century attitudes to love and marriage into a first-century setting, but gives us an authentic-feeling sense of how people thought then. The shame surrounding Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy affects not only Mary herself, but her entire extended family.
Despite the title, though, this book is not just about Mary. Rather, it pulls in a vast cast of characters — not just Mary and Joseph, their families, and the other villagers of Nazareth, but characters from the traditional Christmas story — shepherds, innkeeper, even the Magi. Sometimes this broad sweep seems a little too ambitious, as it took me awhile to get into the story because of all the different points of view. And at the end I was slightly frustrated with a few storylines that didn’t seem to get fully resolved. But I got very much engaged with others, and really appreciated a parallel story about another unwed mother whose experience was very different from Mary’s.
This novel has a rich cast of memorable characters and an authentic feeling for time and place. If you like Biblical fiction, I recommend this one.