Pearl in the Sand by Tessa Afshar
A review by Robin E. Mason
I read a quote today attributed to Téa Obreht, “The best fiction stays with you and changes you.” That is this book, Pearl in the Sand. Because it is beautifully crafted and because it is a story lifted from the Word of God.
Tessa Afshar has done her homework. I looked in my Bible, and there’s barely a mention of Rahab. Well, other than her story of hiding the Hebrew spies, and that was hardly more than name dropping. She bears mention in geneology, but nothing of her personal story. This is the beauty of historical fiction; we as artists, create the story around the facts. We dig, as archeologists, to unearth what could plausibly, or even likely, have been the true story. We take privilege and delight of adding nuance to hard fact, subtle hint to solid truth, to make an enjoyable reading experience. Ms. Afshar has done this, and with excellence.
The Scriptures noted by Ms. Afshar identify Nahshon, who would become Rahab’s father in law, as the leader of the Tribe of Judah. His son, Salmone, then took this distinguished position. And he also became the husband of Rahab.
Now think about this for one minute. A member of highest esteem in the nation of Israel, a leader of the Tribe of Judah. Marries a Canaanite woman. A Canaanite woman who is – or was – a harlot. I don’t know how others read Scripture, but I think we are intended to look beyond the words, and look for the depth and meaning. The backstory, if you will.
Ms. Afshar has created this for us, and masterfully so. She has woven a tale of Salmone’s likely reaction to this pagan family coming not just into the holy nation of Israel, but into his tribe. His tribe. Which makes him responsible for them. He does not embrace this very gracefully, yet throughout the text, the truth of the Word woven so neatly into the warp and woof, Salmone comes to see that Yahweh accepts us all the same. And in her story, Ms. Afshar weaves the romance between the Israelite leader and the Canaanite harlot. For whatever their love story may have been, our loving God saw fit to allow her to become part of the most extraordinary blood line of all time.
I dog-earred several pages as I read. Little lessons to come back to. Consequences for one. Our actions might be forgiven, but the consequence remains. Or this: sometimes we ask God for a certain thing, but he answers quite differently. And only later do we see the greater benefit of His answer. His Divine perspective. Much of the story spoke very directly to me, as Rahab came embrace her new life. I won’t say more than that, lest I give too much away. (And no, I was not a harlot in a previous life.)
This story, crafted so beautifully, grabbed me deeply, leaving me anxious to see what her next book, Harvest of Rubies, holds. And the next, and the one after that.