On This Foundation: By Lynn Austin
[Note: This book was provided without charge by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]
Whether you like it or not, one goes into reading a novel by Lynn Austin with certain expectations . Her chosen area of focus is biblical history, particularly involving Old Testament historical fiction, with multiple plot lines that include a familiar storyline from the Bible and also fictional characters and fictionalized characterizations of mostly female characters who are barely mentioned in the Bible but who become major characters in her novels. Her novels follow a fairly typical melodramatic U-curve, starting with mostly godly but somewhat embittered characters who suffer peril and loss but who end up ultimately in a good place, usually with marriages involved for the main female characters, some of whom feel too old and too damaged to find happiness. Additionally, and more unhappily, she frequently deals with subjects that are very unpleasant, including poverty, warfare, the threat of slavery, and at the very least attempted rape. Despite knowing that her novels end well, there is often a great deal of unhappiness, at least for this reviewer, in the way in which at least one of her female characters is always placed under the threat of rape, as that sort of threat is an unpleasant one to think about for some of us, male and female.
This book lives up to all of one’s expectations, good and bad, for a Lynn Austin novel. The third (and perhaps final) novel of her Restoration Chronicles trilogy, unless she adds a melancholy volume on the times of Malachi, this novel focuses on the events of the biblical book of Nehemiah. Intriguingly enough, Nehemiah is not portrayed as married–he is seen as not having the time for marriage, but neither is he portrayed as a eunuch, as would have been likely for a man in his position. He comes off as strong-willed, godly, and more than a little bit macho, but someone who is willing to respect others who are strong-willed. The Bible gives him a foil in the largely fictional Chana, portrayed as one of the daughters of Shallum, who with her sisters helped build a section of the wall of Jerusalem, the events of which make up a large part of the action of this book. Additional characters include a young woman sold into servitude to a wealthier neighbor as a result of her father’s impossible debt, and the threat of rape she faces from her master’s spoiled and selfish son, which make for some of the more unpleasant and unsettling aspects of the novel. As is the case, the several parallel plots intersect often and the result is a fast-reading 450 page novel.
If you are picking up a novel like this, you already know what you are getting into, for the most part. The characters are well-drawn, if the females are often more rounded characters than the men, who are drawn less fully and whose internal life is focused on in less detail. These novels, along with many similar novels, amount to a reinterpretation of biblical accounts that seeks to present the lives and character and motivation of women. It seeks to portray life in biblical times as being as hazardous for the virtue and safety of women as a contemporary college campus, a portrayal that is of doubtful realism. Ultimately, this novel both encourages a belief that God will sort things out for the best as well as a tendency of catering to a certain amount of fear and bitterness over the difficulty of life. One wonders if the author, by focusing on the same sorts of themes in her novels, is targeting her writings at providing encouragement to women who have felt marginalized by religion and who have suffered rape and abuse, to remind them that God cares and has a place for them in His family. This would be a noble aim, but it can make for painful reading sometimes. The popularity of her books would appear to indicate that she has chosen to write what a lot of people want to read, for their own reasons.
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