4 out of 4 stars
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First Family by Alice Langholt is a retelling of Genesis from the Bible. I have to admit to having reservations when I first saw this book. Initially, I thought it was a biography of the Trumps (the horror!), and then I realised it was the story of the actual first family, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel; one of my least favourite stories in the Bible. I feel I need to warn potential readers of this review, that I am a nonbeliever and some of my opinions may give offence. It’s also extremely difficult to review such a well-known story without giving away spoilers since they are the only bits that people don’t know already, so consider yourself warned.
The reason that I have never liked Genesis is because I felt that it could be summarised into ‘God created the earth and women are the root of all evil and must be subjugated and punished for all time’. My opinion on that front has always been, ‘well that didn’t take long, did it?’
Despite all these caveats, I will say that I loved this book. It is told from everybody’s point of view, including that of God and the snake. Some of the opinions of the protagonists are critical of God, some praise, some blame and some accept. Everybody gets to have a say, and the arguments are very even-handed and believable. There are even some unexpected and amusing phrases like ’there goes the neighbourhood’. I related most strongly to Cain and Eve and I felt her resentment that God never spoke to her, and her feeling that ’God has no use for me’. Adam, on the other hand, received attention from God and remained devout throughout. He mourned the loss of his life of indolence in the garden, while Eve powered ahead, making tools and shearing sheep. Again, it resonates with my own opinion on the question of Eve’s actions, which is, ’did you really want to spend eternity naming sheep? Wouldn’t you rather walk on the moon?’
The book also covers the difficult question of why did God reject Cain’s offering? I’ve always felt that many of the difficulties created in Genesis were caused by favouritism on God’s side. In this retelling, God doesn’t demand a sacrifice, but he does desire credit while giving none to his creations. As Cain says, ’there’s no need to give anyone else the credit. If we didn’t do the work we did, there would be no fruit, no flocks, no wool and no milk’. In this story, God gives his reason to the reader for rejecting Cain’s offering, but his explanation to Cain is as nebulous as in the original. On the other hand, Adam remains adamant that everything that he creates is as a result of God providing the raw materials, so he always thanks God for everything.
The story then focuses on the grief that Adam and Eve feel as they lose both their sons at the same time. They have never encountered death, so Abel’s demise is incomprehensible to them. I felt this part was dealt with beautifully and really brought home the immensity of their loss. The death of Abel in this story allows for more sympathy for Cain than in the way it is told traditionally and makes his punishment all the more cruel.
I felt this book was beautifully written, I only spotted one grammatical mistake where Cain was waiving his arms rather than waving them, so the book must have been professionally edited. The emotions and motivations of everyone concerned were engaging and felt real. Even though I knew the story, I nevertheless found it to be a page-turner because the emotional side of the story was still unchartered waters. I feel that this book could be enjoyed by anybody regardless of their religion because it is a story about people and an exciting one at that. People who enjoy character-driven stories should enjoy this book immensely.
Other than the single error, I have no criticisms of this book and am delighted to award it 4 out of 4 stars.
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