Reviewer: Truong Buu Lam: Dr. Lam earned his Doctorate in History from the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium many years ago. He has since taught history of Southeast Asia at several Colleges and Universities in Vietnam and the USA. He has authored a few works on Vietnamese history. He is now retired and the last affiliation was the University of Hawaii.
Author: Ginger Garrett
Publisher: David Cook
I left this book with a weird mixed impression. I wished I had not read the appendix and had remained instead with the anticipated eagerness when I encountered this terse yet forceful sentence:" My name is Esther and I will be queen."
Author: Ginger Garrett
Publisher: David Cook
I never guess that one could enjoy so much reading a word of fiction the plot of which is well known even in its minute details. In a way, that should be how fiction works should be constructed: around well known themes so that the readers' attention can be concentrated on the authors' writing style, on the structure they are able to build with the given material, on their cleverness in exhibiting their data, on the depth of the psychological analysis of their personalities who are already familiar to the readers. Have you counted the times your elders narrated to you the story of Cinderella, the Grimm's or Anderson's fairy tales? We called all the seven dwarfs by their names. And yet, we still were horrified at the death of Snow White, terrified at the lenghthening of Pinocchio's nose. The emotion we experienced while hearing these stories again and again remained intense and vivid. This was how I felt reading Garrett's Chosen.
Rare would be the persons who have never heard of the story of Queen Esther who, in spite of her condition as a poor orphan Jew living in the capital city of Persia, Susa, was selected for her beauty to join the harem of King Xerxes. From thousands of young maidens, Xerxes chose her to be his queen. But what rendered her immortal was ability to make Xerxes cancel his decree to slaughter all the Jews living in Persia.
Ms. Garrett has done a credible job of relating the story of Esther in a convincing narrative told in the first person. The tone is intimate, the environment accurate, the description lively, Esther's psychological analyses deep and candid. The writing style evokes the general atmosphere surrounding the Tales of the Thousand and One Night, perhaps because of the harem, the gorgeous maidens, the magnificence of the royal palace, the gaudy jewelries inserted with exotic precious stones.
The changes affecting the perception of Esther's world from a young girl in love to a mature woman in search of love are interesting to monitor. The young girl in love: "..and then, oh then, his gaze held my eyes for a moment. Everything in my body seemed to come alive suddenly and I felt afraid, for my legs couldn't stand as straight and steady and I couldn't get my mouth to work." (p. 24) The mature woman wondered aloud about the nature of love: "..is it a decision made on earth, of logic and reason, a choice made in the time here between dust and dust? Is it made in heaven, a supernatural force that binds us together in this world, and the next? Is love made in man's will, or God's heart?" ( p. 176) Painful dichotomy: she cannot shed her first love and yet, as queen now, she should feel free to love the King.
In the harem, Esther did not remain too long a guileless, innocent girl. As queen, she became involved in the affairs of state and revealed fully her cruelty in the revenge she took against what she saw as the enemy of her people and her God. She couldn't have enough of corpses of the gang who was set to harm her people. "When enemies are bent on massacring you, you must kill them all." (p.250) she expounded. That contrasted with how Xerxes felt: "There was a sorrow in his words that moved me. He was not eager to see blood spilled in his land, to see a people governed peaceably turn against each other." (p.247)
Unlike in other works of fiction which deal with Arabian nights, there is not much of alluded love scenes or amorous affairs. Only two short hints. One: "Xerxes smiled, letting down the strap on my shoulder. We needed no more words that evening." ( 142) The other hint occurred after Esther confessed to Xerxes she was a Jew and insisted: " 'My king, there is nothing more to be revealed'. I could tell that he didn't believe me, but he smiled now. 'There is always more to be revealed, my love.' His mouth turned up on one end, and his hands moved to the small of my back." ( p. 241.)
It is as it should be, for this is a book with a special message, a very clear and loud message, a multidimensional message which is spelled out first in the sale sheet with its exhortation:"Don't just study the Story of Esther--Live it!" It is subsequently explicated in several sections of a long Appendix ( p. 273-287) which includes:
- a speech of a former President of the USA given at the United Nations pledging $50 million to support organizations that are "rescuing women and children from exploitation."
- a sort of manifesto for nowadays women who have too many choices while Esther and her peers had none. According to the author, that is not important; what is is women's honor. "We must not let our choices lead to indulgence; may our choices lead us to integrity, and our integrity lead us to honor." (p.284)
-an advice to women to not imitate Esther's peers who had recourse to artificial means such as cosmetics to affect the light shining on them, but rather try to become like Esther whom the Creator has fashioned to be the light.
There are a few more pages on women's conditions and advices to improve them. The last one takes us to Jesus who taught his disciples to pay attention to small details in their life; the author calls them the "little things". Esther obtained great results by putting her heart into decorating the table and cooking the food for Xerxes, before asking him for favors. This allows the author to footnote a reference to another president of the USA who declared solemnly: "The doors of history swing on small hinges."(p. 287)
I must confess that my enthusiasm for this book is a wee bit dampened after I read all these moral advices and ethical prescriptions. A work of fiction is not a treatise on virtues. My conviction is that if a book is well written and the ideas well thought out, the readers should be left free to draw their own lessons. I left this book with a weird mixed impression. I wished I had not read the appendix and had remained instead with the anticipated eagerness when I encountered this terse yet forceful sentence:" My name is Esther and I will be queen." (p.21)