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Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Return to Me" by Lynn Austin

This book was a superb read that was immensely well-written.  Starting off with a scene where the Babylonian king consults Daniel, the story hits the ground running.  After the reader understands that the Babylonian empire is about to crumble, the story quickly transitions into the Persians taking over.  Readers follow Babylonian exiles Iddo, Zechariah, Dinah, Yael, Yeshua, and others--some characters biblical and some fictitious.  When King Cyrus declares that the Jews can return to Jerusalem to rebuild their Temple, there is indecisiveness.  Some Jews stay and some Jews leave.  Zechariah leaves his father behind as he follows his grandfather Iddo to the forsaken Promised Land.  There is drama between Iddo and his wife as she does not want to leave Babylon.  Yael is a prime character as she is a young girl that is friend to the young Zechariah.  I should point out that Zechariah and his family age throughout the book--readers see Zechariah go from a young boy to a full grown man.  Anyway, Yael is ensconced in sorcery and eventually begins to mingle with the Samaritans neighboring Jerusalem who are incredibly hostile to the Jews.  Yael is an insider of sorts because the Samaritans honor her for her abilities as a "seer" who can tell the future "by the stars."  Tension grows as religious Zechariah--training to be a priest--falls in love with Yael, a sorcerer condemned by the Torah.  I liked how Austin wrote about pagan ways but kept it relatable.  In the 21st century, not many readers can relate to the thought of multiple gods, but people can certainly relate to the danger and temptation of psychics and astrology that is still popular today even in America.  I won't give the entire book away, but the suspense will keep you turning the pages as you wonder what Zechariah will do--what he will compromise and what he will not when it comes to his faith.  You also will wonder what will happen to Iddo and Dinah's marriage.  Many important faith questions come up as dialog goes back and forth between characters who support and oppose the work of the Jews.  On a side note, readers will understand much better exactly who the Samaritans are that are mentioned in the Bible as this historical book gives a good backdrop to the history of the Samaritans and the Jews.  Also woven into this story are Zechariah's dreams written in the Bible.  What I loved is how Austin wrote the book to relate some of Zechariah's dreams to troubles going on in his life.  Now, when it comes to dreams and prophecy, it's hard to know what is really meant.  However, the American public sometimes goes overboard trying to over-spiritualize everything while ignoring context.  This book puts context to a lot of what is written in the Bible while adding some literary freedom, of course.  While characters like Ezra and Nehemiah aren't mentioned in this book, it packs a lot of time and history into its pages.  I can not recommend this book enough.  There is drama, romance, action, redemption, spirituality, and so much more.         

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