Friday, June 18, 2010

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther (Lost Loves of the Bible)
Esther is an orphan living outside the palace walls, a Jew in exile. She is taken in by a distant cousin named Mordicai. She lives hand to mouth and sells sheep and roses at the market daily. Somehow, she is chosen to be part of the king's harem. It is assumed the king is Xerxes, the son of Darius famous for Daniel in the Lion's Den. He was tolerant and good to Jews (probably because of his close friendship with Daniel).

Back to Esther. She is prepped for one full year for her one night to impress the king who needs a queen since he has exiled the previous queen. She finds favor in the king, becomes the queen and lives in the palace where she is informed by Mordacai of a plot to murder and overthrow the king, she tells him, he is grateful, another bad guy enters and hates Mordacai so he gets the king to sign a decree to murder all Jews living under the crown of Persia but through Esther's cunning, she reveals to her husband that she is Jewish and bad guy is really trying to overtake the thrown. Bad guy dies. King won't recall his order to murder the Jews (it just doesn't look good, does it? King makes declaration then decides, "Oh, never mind." But he offers Esther and Mordacai free reign to write proclamation to root out all those in plot and kill them.

And this, my dear non-Jewish friend, is the birth of Purim, a tradition still practiced in the Jewish community to celebrate Esther and her bravery which saved the Jewish people from slaughter.

So, that's Esther. Very short book in the Old Testament. Frankly, it leaves me with my eyebrows raised. So many unanswered questions.

It's no secret that the women in the Old Testament are strangely silent. Whatever journals are canonized from our time period would be full of women who wielded great power over countries and politics. This simply is not so for the women under the Persian crown.

The author assumes Esther is quite poor and works hard in the marketplace. When the king exiles Queen Vashti (pregnant with his son), he is in need of a new queen. Where does a king find a queen? In his harems. Where do the harems come from? They are made up of virgins from his kingdom. This smacks strangely of sex slavery. The virgins are bought  with or without their caretakers' permission and carted off to the palace.

Hagai, a well respected Eunich (incidentally, Eunichs had a mortality rate of 90% shortly after their oh-so-sterile surgery), chose Esther because of her beauty to be trained and prepped by the best servants. But now she is an unwilling participant in the Old Testament's version of "The Bachelor." Each virgin gets one night with the king. Either she impresses him so he asks for her again and again, she gets pregnant and will be treated very well for the rest of her life (or his reign, whichever comes to the end first), or she wins his heart and is made queen.

Every night he gets a new virgin. Not all virgins make to the king's bed. There is murder and suicide. We're talking serious "Bachelor" crap going on. Esther makes it to the king's bed but refuses to enter willingly unless she has the promise of his heart. He makes her queen before he takes her virginity.

Oh, but did I mention that the king continues to play with his harems? She is a queen but she lacks any real power. He needs heirs so he will impregnate as many as possible. Isn't that just special.

What struck me so powerfully with the author's crafting of her story is the lack of will and power the women at this time possessed. The king wants a girl, even as young as 12 (Esther becomes part of the harem at 17), and she has no choice but to go. When the king calls for her, she must go. All of her strength lies in her power to conceive yet even that may not save her (as it did not save Vashti).

Did I mention that, even as queen, Esther does not have access to her husband unless she is summoned? Imagine her angst in knowing that there is a plan to murder Mordacai and the rest of her Jewish people and she runs the risk of being beheaded by approaching her husband uninvited.

In the end, she uses what resources she has; her beauty, her cleavage and sexuality, and the beauty implements at her disposal. Yes, the power of seduction was her gift to gain access to her husband. In essence, she had to prostitute herself even to her husband in order to save the Jewish people and herself. It was at this time she revealed that she was a Jew.

The story is told in diary form. Esther reveals her childlike dreams of marrying the man she loves from the village and the reader watches as Esther is an astute student of the rules of the palace and court. She learns quickly and realizes that royalty is simply precarious and always at death's door.

It need be noted that after Esther's heroic act of doing the will of God and saving the Jewish nation in Persia, life for women changed drastically. Because of the traitorous men in the land, most were purged by bloody and also cowardly means. This left many women and children without someone to care for them. Because of Esther's influence, women were allowed to work the same as men and were paid fair wages. It was a season of peace and prosperity.

The author weaves a beautiful story of Esther's probable life circumstances. Along with the story, she provides snippets of real history in the appendix along with talks given that liken Esther's experiences to our own. For instance, this was not Esther's dream in life, to be married to a king who worshiped pagen gods. However, she used the resources she had to make a life for herself. She learned to love her husband and retain her Jewish practices in secret. Have we not found ourselves in circumstances that are less than ideal? Can we not use the resources at our disposal to make our lives work for good?

There is a beautiful essay in the appendix contrasting the importance of having a fertile womb. Motherhood was esteemed above all else for a woman's worth. The goal was to get pregnant. How does that contrast with today's culture? We do women value today? Is it the same as what God wants for us?

Besides opening my eyes to sex slavery and the complete lack of power women seemed to have at that time (although Esther clearly makes good use of her talents and helps change the culture so women could also care for themselves) I am enamored by this book. The writing is exquisite and tells the story of Esther through her own fictional diaries. The author took some liberties when crafting the story but the basic story is not only intact, but the culture is meticulously researched and woven within the book.

Loved it.

But I don't want to be Esther.


CountessLaurie said...

Wow! I am going to go read the book of Esther and then read this. Sounds really good!

Thanks for the review!

Riahli said...

Oh wow...