Thursday 13 March 2014
Book Review: Return to Me by Lynn Austin
After years of watching his children and grandchildren wander from their faith, Iddo's prayers are answered: King Cyrus is allowing God's chosen people to return to Jerusalem. Jubilant, he joyfully prepares for their departure, only to learn that his family, grown comfortable in the pagan culture of Babylon, wants to remain.
Zechariah, Iddo's oldest grandson, feels torn between his grandfather's ancient beliefs and the comfort and success his father enjoys in Babylon. But he soon begins to hear the voice of God, encouraging him to return to the land given to his forefathers.
Bringing to life the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, "Return to Me" tells the compelling story of Iddo and Zechariah, the women who love them, and the faithful followers who struggle to rebuild their lives in obedience to the God who beckons them home.
This story begins after the invasion of Babylon, when Persian King Cyrus decreed that the exiled Jews living there could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their holy temple. Lynn Austin's way of drawing us straight to the ancient middle east is wonderful. The story focuses on four main characters, and although their motivations and agendas are often at cross purposes with each other, it is so easy to understand each of them.
There is Iddo, the grandfather. He has horrendous memories of being forced to leave Babylon when he was a child, which still cause nightmares. Now that such a miraculous opportunity is available after all these years, he's going to grab it with both hands. Enjoying God's fellowship again means the world to him, to the point where he comes across as bossy and autocratic to those who don't share the enormity of his vision. He's easy to understand.
Dinah, the grandmother, was born in Babylon and is happy living there, with her extended family beneath her roof. How heartbreaking, to be drawn away from her grown children and beloved grandchildren in a time when there was no reliable postal service to keep in touch, and all to settle down in a pile of rubble in the desert. How easy to let a festering resentment of her husband take root, especially when homesickness and hostility from surrounding pagan nations gets hard to bear. Oh boy, can I understand her!
Yael, the headstrong young girl next door, has lost her mother. Swayed by a smooth-talking Babylonian sorceress, she believes that turning to the stars and studying astrology and the positions of celestial bodies will help her control the rest of her future. Nothing wrong with telling people's fortunes, is there? Her mother was open to sorcery anyway, and Yael is doing what she wants to do, refusing to bow to the whims of a God who would let her mother die. I admit, my patience with her wore thin at one crucial point of the story, and you'll know when you get there. How could she be so willfully stubborn and defiant, let alone not notice the lovely young guy who was devoted to her? I was on the point of shouting, "He's too good for you anyway," when I realised that my annoyance shows just what a well drawn character Yael is. And yes, in spite of everything, I could understand her.
Finally there's Zechariah, the grandson. At the start of the story he's a 12-year-old boy, the only family member willing to accompany his grandparents to Jerusalem, thinking his parents will be coming soon. As I kept reading, it dawned on me who his character is based on, and I grabbed my Bible to confirm it. Now, when I read the book of Zechariah, I'll think of the sensitive young man, Zaki, torn between what various members of his family wanted for him and protective of his wild best friend with her tomboyish ways. And I'll think of the humble young priest who had flashes of messages from God about the temple, but couldn't find them in the Torah whenever he went to check. What a great way of presenting his story, as we see him try to balance following the duty he was born into and making his own decisions.
Not only does this novel entertain but gets us thinking about God's provision, how getting to know him through his written word is so vital, and how easily we can get sidetracked from his plans by our own decisions and attitudes, which may even look as if they are based on expediency and common-sense.
I received a copy from NetGalley and Bethany House in return for an honest review.
Paula Vince is an award-winning author of contemporary fiction set in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Her most recent novel, Imogen's Chance, will be an April 2014 new release.