Sarah: Women of Genesis

by Orson Scott Card

A tradition of strong women, and strong marriages

January 2001

Unlike what one other reviewer has written here, I believe this book is very much in keeping with almost all other novels Card has written: characters of strength and integrity committed to some grand cause, sometimes misunderstanding each other, coming to equality in relationships by the end. Of course, a little politicking/social maneuvering is thrown in as well, as well as historicity of customs and action (oooh, how racy =were= those Egyptians, anyway? One wonders if today's fashions of tight Tshirts and bun-hugging jeans, though not as translucent as the Egyptian linens, would have been found objectionable by the modest desert nomads?)

While Card adds details not found in the original Biblical source (and he also admits to adding some details that are not found in the Old Testament, but are in Mormon scripture), he also edits the story to sew up some plot holes - not unreasonable, considering, as with many of the Genesis stories, there is more than one source (checking my Bible, it mentions that both the Eloist and Yahwist sources both contribute (so named because of their words for God - either Eloi or Yahweh)). One sees the repitition of the device of the man claiming his wife to be his sister in the Bible - not only twice in the case of Abraham and Sarah, but also in Isaac's story. Many of these plot changes may irritate a Biblical fundamentalist, but they are not too glaring. I had to go back to the Bible to figure out what was changed -- the story pretty much agreed with the tale I remember hearing as a child.

However, the best part of this book was Sarah herself. Like most women in Card's fiction, she gets to be a strong person in her own right - not pretending to be less intelligent or skilled than she is, not bowing under men's authority or words simply because they are men. People might complain about the less attractive female characters Qira and Hagar, but he also gives these women autonomous characters. They do not blend into the background, but are shown as captains of their own souls, even if they turn out to have made poor choices.

Most importantly with Sarah, Card shows how a person of faith lives when they do not get to hear God's voice directly. Abraham gets to hear God speak, so he is sure in knowing that he shall be the ancestor of a great people, he is sure that he shall win military conflict, he is sure of eventual success. Sarah must hear the words of God through others, and in a world that offers many gods, she doubts and is hurt by the conflict between her doubt and her faith. I see this book as being popular among people of faith, whatever their religions, for it mirrors some of their own conflicts (If there is a benevolent God, why is there so much suffering? Am I being punished by God for something?) in their souls.

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Mary Pat Campbell, last updated 11 June 2001