4 out of 4 stars
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Second Born by Patrick W. Andersen is a historical fiction novel centered around the life of Jesus and his family. It tries to meld biblical accounts with historical ones in an attempt to shed light on the adolescent years of Jesus and his brothers.
Joseph of Sepphoris is a wealthy and respectable man. He lives in a time when the Jews are under Roman rule. He and his wife, Miriam have six children named James, Jesus, Judas, Joanna, Simon, and Susanna. His first son, James is dedicated to the Temple at birth. He studies there to become a priest. He loves elucidating passages in Scripture and their applications to students and worshippers in the synagogue. He is believed to be the “Righteous One,” who would restore Israel to God’s favor. Jesus is the humorous one. He is more casual and liberal than all; however, he loves defending the weak. Judas, also nicknamed Thomas (Greek for Twin) because he bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus, stutters, while Simon is shy and constantly bullied by Chuza and his friends. Joanna and Susanna follow closely after their mother in behavior and actions.
Joseph’s family has a peculiar heritage. Joseph is a direct descendant of King David, whereas Miriam is from David’s priest, Zadok. This leads the family to assume James to be the Deliverer. Joseph believes his first son should be the focal point, but his other three sons should inherit the bulk of his fortune. After a while, Joseph foresees his boys will all have enormous responsibilities, and therefore he primes them. The tale explores the growth of these characters and how their lives intertwine and impact the nation of Israel permanently.
Each chapter of the book is narrated in first-person and titled the name of the character involved accordingly. The story alternates fluidly between the characters, and they all evolve in peculiar and prominent ways. Nonetheless, the book does not hinge on Jesus, and all the brothers are equally explored. Hence, I believe it should not be titled, Second Born. Furthermore, many biblical names and stories are embedded in the work. For instance, James and John (the sons of Zebedee) and the Parable of the Sower.
I appreciate many aspects of this book. The meticulous attention to character development by the author is highly commendable, even with the female characters. Miriam has some beautiful character moments. Her legendary “Stare” that she uses to discipline her kids and her emotional response to Judas (when he tries convincing her to relocate with the family, for safety reasons, to a different town) are pages to anticipate. Equality between the male and female genders is addressed. Jesus emphasizes equal standing before the Law. Additionally, the book contains some inspiring quotes, such as, “I can teach you to defend yourself. But more importantly, you need to learn to respect yourself so you won’t be a victim.” This is a statement Jesus tells Simon after he saves him from Chuza on one occasion.
Nevertheless, I do not appreciate the subtle hints at sexual attraction and the few instances of the use of adult language. Moreover, there are a few grammatical errors in the book. There is a recurrent case of overuse of the word “and” while listing examples or names. For instance, “But think of Mary and Judith and Joanna and Susanna.” In addition, I am uncomfortable with the idea of a deity that seems unsure and almost always answers questions with questions. This is exemplified abundantly in the work.
I give the book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. Despite the drawbacks, the book is thoroughly enjoyable and engaging. The character development of the brothers pays off graciously and satisfyingly. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves novels that reimagine history.
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