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Book Review: Pearl in the Sand, Tessa Afshar

16 Aug

Pearl in the SandGenre: Christian fiction; biblical fiction; historical fiction; romance

Plot Summary: Rahab is only a young girl living in the ancient city of Jericho when her father sells her into prostitution to save the family from starvation.  Her spirit broken, she believes that life is nothing but one rejection after another for her.  But when news reaches of her of a holy God who seems to have a heart of mercy, something in her longs for His acceptance of her.  A young man named Salmone yearns to be a picture of God’s love toward her.  Whether or not she can accept it is the real test of faith for Rahab.

My Book Review: I remember when this book came out a few years ago.  There was something about the story that hooked me and made me say, “I’ll have to read this!!”  I especially wanted to read it after listening to an interview with the author Tessa Afshar and was struck by her passion for God.  I waited weeks for this to come available at my library because I knew instinctively there was something good I felt God wanted me to get out of it.

Let’s start with the book cover.  Completely gripping!  I love the rich colors, the saturated reds, browns and blues.  And the models used for the characters are spot-on to how I imagined them in the book.  I was sitting at the library today gazing around when I saw this book again on the shelf (in the wrong place, I might add), and the haunting eyes of “Rahab” on the cover just seems to make the book stand out amongst all the others.

To my understanding, “Pearl in the Sand” is Tessa Afshar’s first published novel.  Although I found that fact to be a little obvious at times, I took it into consideration and gave a little grace.  I’ve read other books by well-known writers that read worse.  Rather, I found myself to be quite impressed by the depth of Afshar’s well-crafted story.  There was something meaty and substantial about it.  I think one of the things that stood out the most to me was how organic the characters seemed.  In the person of Rahab, we have a great example of character development.  How did Rahab, known as a woman of faith, become a prostitute in the first place?  How, as a woman living in an ancient civilization, did she come to own her own house in the city walls?  Why did she not conduct business in the temple as most other harlots did?  What was it that drew Rahab to seek God?  Taking the basic facts we know about her from Scripture, Tessa was able to develop convincing background and an “after-Jericho” story for her that naturally flowed and was intriguing.

I learned so much from reading about this fictionalized story of one of the strongest women of faith in the Bible.  Even though I cannot personally identify with the same exact things Rahab went through, it was a story I could find similar to my own in other ways.  Rahab carries a lot of baggage with her.  Even though she comes to find faith, loving care and forgiveness from God, not everything is healed in her heart overnight.  God uses others to come alongside her to peel away the onion layers, so to speak.  One of those ways is through Salmone, our hero of the story.

In many romance novels, the heroine is rescued from dire circumstances by a perfect handsome hunk who arrives to save the day and then her troubles are no more and they live happily ever after.  In fact, the book usually ends with a proposal, and if that’s all the type of book we were to ever read, we’d get the impression that romance ends right there.  After all, romance hinges on suspense, right?  Not so in this story.  Yes, Salmone is the “handsome hunk,” but he quickly finds he can’t solve all of Rahab’s problems.  He has some problems of his own.  The only way the pair can build a marriage together is through his humbling his heart, by his allowing God’s grace work through him, and through Rahab’s gradual realization that God values her.  Although there was a lot of deep problems for them to work through, they decided to work through them together, and in that respect they forged a stronger marriage and a greater intimacy than a couple without problems.

I have read others’ online reveiws comparing this novel to the Christian equivalent of a bodice-ripper.  I strongly disagree and argue those readers have missed the point.  There are some books (yes, even Christian fiction) that seem to have sex as it’s suspension.  I have an opinion about that, although I won’t take up more space in this review about it (maybe some other time).  “Pearl in the Sand,” does include some rather ‘zestful’ scenes, EXCLUDING graphic details.  This book probably won’t be for all audiences.  However, –and I want to make this point clear–, in no way did I feel these parts of the story to be the goal driving the book.  The plot didn’t hinge on it, and I didn’t feel the author meant it to.  California Sunset, Lovers on the Beach by Amanda Valena, via FlickrRather, there were deeper issues going on in the lives of the characters (Rahab’s sense of unworthiness, Salmone’s pride) and they discovered that the marriage bed did not escape the effects of their baggage.  I felt Afshar was able to balance her romance scenes and use them in a constructive way that portrayed realism.  In Salmone, we see a character who learns to put aside his desires for the care of his wife’s soul (something lacking in bodice-rippers).  Truthfully, for these reasons I was able to handle this romance novel a lot better than a previous one I recently felt I had to give up.

Another complaint out there is the unbelievability of Rahab’s conversion.  I don’t think it has to be unbelievable.  When you’ve got a character who has felt dead inside for many years, who has been turned off by merciless gods, and who does not even know who she is anymore, –to hear of a holy God who cares about His people immediately appeals to her.  Her heart is yearning for cleansing from what she knows in her spirit is wrong.  After learning more about Him, she finds God is willing to extend His love and grace to her.  Her soul is watered with His acceptance of her, something she’s never had even from her own family.  God’s presence with her feels more real than anything she has ever sensed before.  This is not a seemingly overnight conversion!  It is the result of many years of thirsting, even if she did not know it.

Although the book was a relatively short read, I took my time going through it and copying down many quotes.  There are many great conversations between several characters.  I’m definitely keeping my eye on this author in the coming years!

“Pearl in the Sand” does belong in the romance genre.  However, unlike shallow romance novels, I believe this deep story is a cut above.  Because through it all, you see that it is more of a story of God wooing Rahab to Himself.  Even if you know the story of Rahab, this should keep your attention because it doesn’t end with and the walls came tumbling down.  So if you’re in the search for a substantial love story, this 5-star (in my opinion) romance will satisfy!

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Posted by on August 16, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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