Gene Harris- I Could Write A Book

Elizabeth Berg's "The Handmaid and the Carpenter" is a difficult book to review. It is, as some big-name reviewers have pointed out, poetic and reflective. It means well. Nevetheless, this novelization of the Holy Family in its early years also suffers from careless theology. In brief, the carpenter gets his just desserts, but the handmaid -- somewhat surprisingly -- does not. Joseph is here portrayed as a model of traditional rectitude. Mary, while not promiscuous, is rather shockingly forward Elizabeth Berg's "The Handmaid and the Carpenter" is a difficult book to review. It is, as some big-name reviewers have pointed out, poetic and reflective. It means well. Nevetheless, this novelization of the Holy Family in its early years also suffers from careless theology. In brief, the carpenter gets his just desserts, but the handmaid -- somewhat surprisingly -- does not. Joseph is here portrayed as a model of traditional rectitude. Mary, while not promiscuous, is rather shockingly forward with her betrothed. Her conduct is such that the virgin birth of Jesus is even harder for Joseph to accept than it otherwise might be, and Berg's attempt to lend perspective to familiar characters robs Mary of some of her dignity. The best part of the novel involves Mary's interaction with her older cousin Elizabeth. Berg there sheds light on how the two women might have helped each other. She also gets the chronology of the visit from the Magi right -- they do not show up at the manger together with adoring shepherds. Beyond those wonderfully written episodes, however, Berg pays no mind to the (admittedly Catholic) doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Consecrated virginity, while never common, was not then or now unheard of, yet it does not figure here. Instead Berg goes in the other direction, positing Jesus as the firstborn of seven (!) siblings. Why our savior from the cross commended His mother to the care of the apostle John, rather than to any of His alleged siblings, is never explained: Berg ducks some of the questions that would sabotage her choices by ending the story with the death of Saint Joseph. Without giving too much away, it also pained me to see Joseph ennobled partly by the cost of his struggle with gossip about Jesus that made no sense when raised in our own day by especially imaginative members of the "Jesus Seminar," and would have made even less sense in first-century Judea, given what we know through scripture and tradition about the character of the people involved. This is a quick Christmas read, but there are better such out there. An evocative description of the wise men from Persia, a poignant rendering of mutual love between cousins of different generations, and a gift for describing simple meals deliciously are not enough to pull this novel from the postmodern morass of doubt and cynicism that looks selectively at scripture, soft-pedals the Magnificat, and puts nearly every miracle in figurative quotation marks, except for Mary's admirable but undeveloped convictions that the earth is full of miracles, and virtuous life is itself a miracle. ...more The author definitely took great liberty with the scriptural account of the birth of Jesus.I found the portrayal of Joseph very disappointing. Jesus needed a strong,faithful and humble stepfather to take the responsibility of caring for God's Son seriously. This is utterly discounted by the narrator, who focused on her idea that Joseph took on the responsibility for what he believed to be Mary's bastard conceived through an illicit affair with a Roman soldier. He is portrayed as faithless, altho The author definitely took great liberty with the scriptural account of the birth of Jesus.I found the portrayal of Joseph very disappointing. Jesus needed a strong,faithful and humble stepfather to take the responsibility of caring for God's Son seriously. This is utterly discounted by the narrator, who focused on her idea that Joseph took on the responsibility for what he believed to be Mary's bastard conceived through an illicit affair with a Roman soldier. He is portrayed as faithless, although he does love Mary. Mary portrayal is also troublesome. I think the author subscribes to the fad that for a heroine to be interesting, she must be headstrong and independent according to the world's standard. I know she was a precious vessel, a handmaid unto the Lord, and as such, she was humble and submissive to the Lord and His commandments. Overall, I found this to be a very silly book. I found myself rolling my eyes constantly. The author's comprehension of the scriptures leaves a lot to be desired (no secret Bethlehem was the prophesied birthplace for the Lord, so how does it make sense to have Joseph be the domineering husband forcing Mary to travel there that close to her time?) Meh... It was okay. It is the author's interpretation of the love story between Mary and Joseph. So, not about Jesus hardly at all, which is fine for the story. Somethings were portrayed in a way that didn't jive with me. I wouldn't recommend it. Also, it was read by the author. I don't think a lot of authors should read their books. Her specially. I felt like it took SO LONG because she read.... everything... so.... slooooowly...... It felt like she was trying to put feeling into it but it just Meh... It was okay. It is the author's interpretation of the love story between Mary and Joseph. So, not about Jesus hardly at all, which is fine for the story. Somethings were portrayed in a way that didn't jive with me. I wouldn't recommend it. Also, it was read by the author. I don't think a lot of authors should read their books. Her specially. I felt like it took SO LONG because she read.... everything... so.... slooooowly...... It felt like she was trying to put feeling into it but it just made it drag. Spoiler****I was really bothered that on his death bed Joseph asks Mary who Jesus' father is. Really? Two angels, divine guidance and you haven't gotten it yet? Even some of the circumstances before Mary becomes pregnant kind of hint that it's not a virgin birth so it was just a little bit weird. ...more Elizabeth Berg's "The Handmaid and the Carpenter: A Novel" is a richly detailed saga of an historic time and a Biblical couple; it is a tale that she has imbued with her special skill of immediacy and an everyday voice, and as a result, we can visualize this young couple as they struggle with the effects of a miraculous conception on their relationship and their lives. We follow them in their journey to Bethlehem and the events that unfold there, just as we come to see the other small and large m Elizabeth Berg's "The Handmaid and the Carpenter: A Novel" is a richly detailed saga of an historic time and a Biblical couple; it is a tale that she has imbued with her special skill of immediacy and an everyday voice, and as a result, we can visualize this young couple as they struggle with the effects of a miraculous conception on their relationship and their lives. We follow them in their journey to Bethlehem and the events that unfold there, just as we come to see the other small and large miracles that accompany them throughout their lives together. And we watch as Joseph's doubts rise up again, and how, finally, he comes to believe. This brief and powerful account is memorable and evocative, and one which adds another dimension to Berg's body of work. I thought this was just a beautiful little book. At its core, it is a love story; the story of an ordinary young couple who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, whose love carries them through hardships, doubts and their own imperfections. It makes Mary and Joseph highly accessible and human without detracting from the wonder and miracle of the Christmas story. This is not a retelling of events, but a fleshing out of the events as presented in the Bible. As such, one's faith might aff I thought this was just a beautiful little book. At its core, it is a love story; the story of an ordinary young couple who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, whose love carries them through hardships, doubts and their own imperfections. It makes Mary and Joseph highly accessible and human without detracting from the wonder and miracle of the Christmas story. This is not a retelling of events, but a fleshing out of the events as presented in the Bible. As such, one's faith might affect one's appreciation of this book, though I am not sure. It is written in such a lovely way that it might just appeal to readers of any faith. ...more The Handmaid and the Carpenter tells the story of the relationship between Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. While fictionalized, it is based on the Biblical account and historical records. Of all of the things written around the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, not much is said about how Joseph handled the situation. Think about it…the girl whom he is betrothed says she is pregnant by holy spirit. He had to have wrestled with doubt over her story, yet, he married her anyway. Imagine how his family mus The Handmaid and the Carpenter tells the story of the relationship between Joseph and Mary of Nazareth. While fictionalized, it is based on the Biblical account and historical records. Of all of the things written around the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, not much is said about how Joseph handled the situation. Think about it…the girl whom he is betrothed says she is pregnant by holy spirit. He had to have wrestled with doubt over her story, yet, he married her anyway. Imagine how his family must have felt, how the people in the town must have gossiped. Remember also that Joseph and Mary were teenagers who lacked perspective and maturity. This was a beautifully written story which really delved into two enigmatic characters from history. Regardless of religious beliefs, at its heart is a story about trust and whether you ever truly know the one you love. Overall, I give The Handmaid and the Carpenter… Plot – 3 bookmarks Love Story – 3 bookmarks Historical Accuracy – 4 bookmarks (to the extent which is it possible, the story is well researched. The major error I found was Jesus’ birth date. While Berg got the year correct, he wasn’t born on December 25th but sometime in October. She also had to fictionalize some of the characters for sake of the story. Understandable and well done.) Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) – Hili Yalon (Mary), Bar Paly (Naomi), Eyal Podell (Joseph) ...more I really really really wanted to like this book, but it made me gag. It's sort of a retelling of a fairy tale, with bits of The Shack thrown in, and plenty of imagination from the author, without, very sadly, any research (at least in the Orthodox tradition of the Nativity). The author tries to be "historically accurate" by putting the birth of Christ in 4 B.C., but on December 25, bam! (As opposed to His birth in the spring, when it is more likely that the shepherds would have their sheep out.) I really really really wanted to like this book, but it made me gag. It's sort of a retelling of a fairy tale, with bits of The Shack thrown in, and plenty of imagination from the author, without, very sadly, any research (at least in the Orthodox tradition of the Nativity). The author tries to be "historically accurate" by putting the birth of Christ in 4 B.C., but on December 25, bam! (As opposed to His birth in the spring, when it is more likely that the shepherds would have their sheep out.) Also, her author's note: "The Bible is poetry. As such, it is open to interpretation. Here is one more writer's imagining of events that took place long, long ago. I have taken great license with the varying and often contradictory 'facts' about Mary, Joseph, and the birth of Jesus; but then, I am in good company in doing so." She's very obviously not in favor of Mary's title as "ever Virgin," having her lust after Joseph—who, for his part, is young and *chose* Mary. (As opposed to the traditional story of his being old and chosen *for* Mary rather against his will.) I did like the point about Mary's mother understanding about having an angel come and tell you about a surprising birth; I hadn't thought of that part before. Of course, it was a bit odd that Mary was living with her parents instead of at the Temple where they'd dedicated her at age three... ...more I didn't like her characterizations of Mary or especially Joseph. I thought it was a cute love story and could see the value of humanizing them for some people but it wasn't my cup of tea. I will enjoy discussing it with book club, I think there is a lot to be pondered in the book because it brings to mind Christ's early years which we know so little about. I liked the look at the culture in Jesus' time, I just wasn't sure I believed her interpretation of it. I didn't particularly like the sexual I didn't like her characterizations of Mary or especially Joseph. I thought it was a cute love story and could see the value of humanizing them for some people but it wasn't my cup of tea. I will enjoy discussing it with book club, I think there is a lot to be pondered in the book because it brings to mind Christ's early years which we know so little about. I liked the look at the culture in Jesus' time, I just wasn't sure I believed her interpretation of it. I didn't particularly like the sexualizing of them (facts of life or not, it's like thinking about your parents' sex lives) and I didn't like the way the author read the book. She just sounded too self-important or like she was trying to be dramatic or give it gravitas instead of reading a story. Meh, I seem to find author's reading their own words to be full of themselves based on my reaction to the last couple I listened to (and I didn't know it was the author at first so I don't think it's a bias, I think it's their reading). ...more Audiobook. Elizabeth Berg’s take on the nativity fills in some of the blanks in the lives of Mary and Joseph. It explores questions such as: Who was Mary apart from angels, wise men and the baby Jesus? How did Joseph react to his wife’s pregnancy? What were their hopes and dreams as a couple and how did they live in their community? This was an interesting exercise, but Berg’s characters speak a stilted combination Bible-talk and modern speech. Her Mary is a petulant teenager who wants her freed Audiobook. Elizabeth Berg’s take on the nativity fills in some of the blanks in the lives of Mary and Joseph. It explores questions such as: Who was Mary apart from angels, wise men and the baby Jesus? How did Joseph react to his wife’s pregnancy? What were their hopes and dreams as a couple and how did they live in their community? This was an interesting exercise, but Berg’s characters speak a stilted combination Bible-talk and modern speech. Her Mary is a petulant teenager who wants her freedom and Joseph is a condescending young man looking to establish his new-found authority. Yes, in the end Mary comes to terms with her lot as a woman and Joseph eases up a bit, but I can’t help thinking that this Mary and Joseph tell us more about our times than their times. The story lacks the richness and detail that I expect from an historical novel. That said, it would be an interesting book to read and discuss with middle school girls during the Christmas season. ...more This book was a hard read. I read this book over the course of two years. I started it, Christmas of 2011, I believe and returned to it Christmas 2012. The author does write with beautiful pros and I believe she is sincere in trying to capture the birth of Christ with historical accuracy as well as leaving room for the awe and wonder of greatest miracle there ever was, but for all that some how the read still just seems boring. Especially after the climax which was the birth of baby Jesus. Mary This book was a hard read. I read this book over the course of two years. I started it, Christmas of 2011, I believe and returned to it Christmas 2012. The author does write with beautiful pros and I believe she is sincere in trying to capture the birth of Christ with historical accuracy as well as leaving room for the awe and wonder of greatest miracle there ever was, but for all that some how the read still just seems boring. Especially after the climax which was the birth of baby Jesus. Mary and Joseph are fairly flat characters and their aren't many other characters of true significance in the story. It's not that the book was terrible, it's simply lackluster. It doesn't really stand out or bring much new to the table as far as perspective or point of view, but I appreciate the author focusing on the true meaning of Christmas and trying to bring that to life. ...more I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of the fact that mary was just a child herself when she carried the son of god. The way that Berg wrote this story was refreshing to me. She didn't play it safe but she really gave a good dose of humanity to a story we all know so well. I don't think she disrespected the mother of christ but she didn't write about her like Mary was a diety she wrote about like she was a human being and a very young women which is what she was. I liked the vulnerability she gav I enjoyed this book. It reminded me of the fact that mary was just a child herself when she carried the son of god. The way that Berg wrote this story was refreshing to me. She didn't play it safe but she really gave a good dose of humanity to a story we all know so well. I don't think she disrespected the mother of christ but she didn't write about her like Mary was a diety she wrote about like she was a human being and a very young women which is what she was. I liked the vulnerability she gave mary in this story and I enjoyed her interpretation of Joseph as well. I would read this book again. Its an interesting and engrossing interpretation of one of the greatist occurances to ever happen on Earth. ...more Told alternatively from Mary and Joseph's points of view, this is a tender interpretation of Christ's birth and the impact it has on Mary and Joseph (perhaps). Berg sometimes took great liberty with the characters, and other times got the culture of the times just right. This novel seems to create a fair bit of angst for people, but it is critical to remember that this is not the true story -- that is found in Scripture. As a novel, this was overly sappy at times, but always touching and thought Told alternatively from Mary and Joseph's points of view, this is a tender interpretation of Christ's birth and the impact it has on Mary and Joseph (perhaps). Berg sometimes took great liberty with the characters, and other times got the culture of the times just right. This novel seems to create a fair bit of angst for people, but it is critical to remember that this is not the true story -- that is found in Scripture. As a novel, this was overly sappy at times, but always touching and thought provoking. For anyone who is willing to simultaneously read this story in Scripture, I recommend the novel. ...more Berg re-imagines the story of Jesus's birth from the perspective of his parents - following them from the moment they met until Joseph's death. I picked up the book because I've enjoyed similar attempts to re-tell such a well-known story in the past, such as Lamb, or Handmaid, however, is absolutely terrible. Firstly, there's the writing quality. Some reviews describe Berg's writing as "poetic," by which I assume they mean "full Berg re-imagines the story of Jesus's birth from the perspective of his parents - following them from the moment they met until Joseph's death. I picked up the book because I've enjoyed similar attempts to re-tell such a well-known story in the past, such as Lamb, or Handmaid, however, is absolutely terrible. Firstly, there's the writing quality. Some reviews describe Berg's writing as "poetic," by which I assume they mean "full of purple prose and stilted faux-historical dialogue." If that's the case, then yes, it's very "poetic." The plot of the book shows that while Berg has probably picked up her Bible a few times, she's done very little research besides. For example, when the angel comes to Joseph, it tells him that Mary's son will be fulfilling the prophecy of Emmanuel, born of a virgin (p.97), except that there's no such prophecy. The whole thing is based on a wonky translation in Greek - which Joseph had no reason to be familiar with in the first place - and a bibliomantic search to shoe-horn "prophecies" into a text after the fact. It's one of Matthew's most well known errors, and Berg should have known that. At the very least, she might have just skipped over it and avoided looking the fool. She also follow's Luke's narrative and sends the family to Bethlehem for a census. This makes no sense in the gospel account anyway, since a census strives to document a population's current positions, not their positions at birth. The premise is absurd. Then Berg makes it all the more absurd by having Joseph and Mary go all the way to Bethlehem for the supposed census, give birth, and then immediately leave for the circumcision in Jerusalem, without the census ever actually taking place. This also means that Joseph puts a woman who has literally just given birth - mere hours earlier - onto a donkey's back for an 8km walk. And when they finally arrive at their destination, Mary is "sore from the ride" (p.126). Not from giving birth, but from riding a donkey. I don't know if Berg has children of her own, but if she does, she clearly hasn't let that experience temper her theology. Jesus is, of course, a calm newborn who "cried rarely: only to show his want for food" (p.132). That's pretty typical for a newborn, first of all. But also, crying is a baby's last resort when it's hungry. I dislike it when books so blindly promote this idea of crying as a feeding cue because babies left to starve until they have to resort to crying are often too upset by that point to be able to actually nurse. Many women who wish to breastfeed and don't know any better give up because their babies just won't stop crying long enough to nurse - all because of this media image of only taking crying as a hunger cue. As a feminist, it really bugged me that Berg so casually and uncritically furthers that image. Then there's Joseph. Despite multiple angelic visitations, and all sorts of strangers - including the Magi - pointing out that Jesus is the messiah (something which has had disturbingly little impact in the fortunes or lives of his family), he still firmly believes that Jesus's father was a Roman soldier. Further, he forced a woman so close to her due date to accompany him on a long journey - knowing that it would be painful for her and potentially disastrous if she went into labour - because he didn't trust her enough to leave her alone at home (p.130). This is abusive behaviour, by the way. Then, with a newborn in tow - a mere few hours old! - he forces his family on even more journeys for no reason other than to avoid his personal discomfort that a few shepherds stopped by to see a new baby. Surely, Joseph must have known how precarious newborn lives are, how easily and how quickly they can die. His selfishness is absolutely astounding. The whole book is trash, a little piece of theological masturbation for people who, I guess, really don't want literature to challenge them. Thankfully, the book is blessedly short and the font very large, so it's quickly over with. ...more I have mixed thoughts about this book. On the one hand, I found it to be an enjoyable imagining of Mary and Joseph's story, and I like the cultural details Berg uses. I don't know how accurate they all are, but they felt organic in the context of the story. I also like the writing style. It flows well and was engaging to me. However, I have the same issue with the story that many other reviewers seem to have, specifically that Joseph is portrayed as such a doubting man. Berg writes him as a dece I have mixed thoughts about this book. On the one hand, I found it to be an enjoyable imagining of Mary and Joseph's story, and I like the cultural details Berg uses. I don't know how accurate they all are, but they felt organic in the context of the story. I also like the writing style. It flows well and was engaging to me. However, I have the same issue with the story that many other reviewers seem to have, specifically that Joseph is portrayed as such a doubting man. Berg writes him as a decent and loving man, but not one of great faith, which I think he must have been to be approved by God as the earthly father of His Son. Even after Joseph had received a visitation from an angel confirming Mary's word that her conception was not a result of adultery, Berg decided to portray him as never quite believing his wife or his heavenly witness. There were also some interesting choices in the portrayal of Mary, such as making her sound like some kind of modern-day environmentalist when she says this about nature: "We appreciate it. We are mindful of it. For all things on earth are one. All things are one another's children and also one another's parents. So I believe." Uh, what? This seemed out of left field and didn't really have anything to do with the story. I do appreciate Berg's attempt to humanize Mary and Joseph, however, because though they were chosen by God for an immense and holy purpose, the are not deity. They must have felt overwhelmed and in awe many times by the callings they had been given. Many Jewish parents named their daughters Miriam (Mary) because it had been prophesied that the mother of the Messiah would be so named. The people knew of the prophesies. How amazing would it be to know that you had been chosen to fulfill them? How inadequate must Mary and Joseph have felt? I also thought it was interesting that Berg wrote Joseph as constantly thinking, "All right, maybe now we can have a normal life. . . . Okay, maybe now." First his espoused wife is pregnant (and not by him), then an angel visits to tell him to marry her anyway because she is carrying the Son of God, then they have to go to Bethlehem because of Caesar Augustus's decree, then Mary gives birth in a stable and shepherds show up to worship the child, then they finally get home but wise men show up with expensive gifts for the child, then Joseph has a vision that they must flee to Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod, etc. Joseph's thoughts seem realistic here because it was still such a new thing for him to know that he was to raise the only begotten Son of God. I'm sure he didn't realize all that would entail. I'm sure he learned through these events that his life was never going to be normal again. Another thing I appreciated is that Berg didn't overdramatize the birth in Bethlehem. It was one of the most significant events in human history (the Atonement being the most significant), but at the time hardly anyone noticed it but a few humble shepherds. We are told that Christ was born in the lowliest of conditions though He is the only perfect, sinless person to ever live on this earth. It seems accurate to portray the birth as mostly quiet and unheralded by the people around Mary and Joseph—two poor and unknown individuals—though unusual because it occurred in a stable. I was glad that Berg included events that happened after the birth of Christ, too, like meeting Anna and Simeon at the temple, etc. So in the end there was a lot I liked about this book, but there were strange things as well. A nice read for Christmas, though! ...more This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The book, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, portrayed some important themes that could be used to better yourself in reality. Ideas such as faith and loyalty are brought up numerous times in this novel, such as in Chapter 5. "'Do not be afraid,' the angel said. 'You have found great favor with God. Now you have conceived in your womb and will bear a son.' But these words! What was he saying? Mary found her voice and spoke most strongly. 'How can this be? I've known no man!' Then she gasped and clo The book, The Handmaid and the Carpenter, portrayed some important themes that could be used to better yourself in reality. Ideas such as faith and loyalty are brought up numerous times in this novel, such as in Chapter 5. "'Do not be afraid,' the angel said. 'You have found great favor with God. Now you have conceived in your womb and will bear a son.' But these words! What was he saying? Mary found her voice and spoke most strongly. 'How can this be? I've known no man!' Then she gasped and closed her eyes against the vision of herself floating in the water, her tunic floating about her. The angel said, 'The Holy Spirit will come unto you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore One born unto you will be the Son of God, and his kingdom will have no end... Now her voice was barely a whisper. 'It is not possible.' 'With God all things are possible,' said the angel... 'I am the handmaiden of the Lord,' she said. 'Let it be with me according to your word'." This quote is showing how humans' faith can be a little sketchy. Mary is having a vision of what is clearly an angel telling her that she is with child, yet she doubts that what he is saying is the truth; however, the angel is patient and kind despite that. This shows God's everlasting compassion for us. The text depicts loyalty in such a fashion that you become emotional over the characters' misfortunes and uncertainties towards each other. During Chapter 14, Joseph confronts Mary about his doubts in the circumstances of Jesus' birth. "'I shall ask you now for the truth, Mary. Will you finally tell me?' 'I have told you the truth, Joseph and I will tell you yet again. On that day, the Holy Spirit-' 'A Roman soldier,' Joseph says. Mary stops breathing. 'What do you say?' 'It was a Roman soldier. Naomi saw you with him.'" In this excerpt, Joseph chooses to believe something he finds more believable over what Mary and an angel have both said to be true. This shows his lack of faith in Mary's loyalty. This could be applied to all people everywhere because we as humans are susceptible to doubt and uncertainty through the Devil's play. The Devil plants these thoughts into our minds and attempts to monopolize from them in the hopes that we would unwittingly sell our soul in the process. People that have learned this through the Scriptures and even real life experiences, are happier in their life and are less ingenuous to these situations....more In this wonderful novel about love and trust, hope and belief, Elizabeth Berg, the bestselling author of We Are All Welcome Here and The Year of Pleasures, transports us to Nazareth in biblical times to reimagine the events of the classic Christmas story. We see Mary young, strong, and inquisitives she first meets Joseph, a serious-minded young carpenter who is steadfastly devoted to the religious traditions of their people. The two become betrothed, but are soon faced with an unexpected pregnan In this wonderful novel about love and trust, hope and belief, Elizabeth Berg, the bestselling author of We Are All Welcome Here and The Year of Pleasures, transports us to Nazareth in biblical times to reimagine the events of the classic Christmas story. We see Mary young, strong, and inquisitives she first meets Joseph, a serious-minded young carpenter who is steadfastly devoted to the religious traditions of their people. The two become betrothed, but are soon faced with an unexpected pregnancy. Aided by a great and abiding love, they endure challenges to their relationship as well as threats to their lives as they come to terms with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the birth of their child, Jesus. For Mary, the pregnancy is a divine miracle and a privilege. For Joseph, it is an ongoing test not only of his courage but of his faith in his wife as well as in his God. Exquisitely written and imbued with the truthful emotions and richness of detail that have earned Elizabeth Berg a devoted readership, The Handmaid and the Carpenter explores lives touched profoundly by miracles large and small. This powerful and moving novel is destined to become a classic. Berg's sweetly understated dramatization of the Nativity story casts Mary and Joseph as provincial teenagers who try to honor family tradition in spite of challenging circumstances. Alternating between the voices of the holy couple, Berg relates a romance that blossoms at the wedding of relatives between the 16-year-old carpenter from Nazareth and the comely 13-year-old girl originally from Sepphoris. Mary, dreamy and intractable, already entertains notions of miraculous circumstances surrounding her own birth to her barren mother, Anne. Joseph is instantly smitten and engenders the trust of both families for a betrothal, yet Mary holds back, cherishing a sense of greater destiny. Escaping a near rape by a Greek man by the river, Mary then receives the angel's message that she will bear an extraordinary son, despite never having known a man; the sadly unwed Mary must return to Joseph, who repudiates her until he, too, is visited in a dream by an angel directing him on the honorable course. With Herod's decree that everyone return to their hometowns to register for the census, Joseph and the near-term Mary set off on their arduous and momentous journey to Bethlehem. Berg handles the gospel passages with a tender reverence. I was hoping to read this story as a good Advent reflection and was utterly disappointed. Though Berg admits in her forward that she has taken 'liberties' with the nativity story, it is clear that she did no more research into this than glancing at the nativity narratives in a barely accurate English translation of the New Testament. I could have gotten past the decision to make Joesph sixteen and Mary thirteen, when in actuality Joesph was more likely in his thirties or forties, while Mary anyw I was hoping to read this story as a good Advent reflection and was utterly disappointed. Though Berg admits in her forward that she has taken 'liberties' with the nativity story, it is clear that she did no more research into this than glancing at the nativity narratives in a barely accurate English translation of the New Testament. I could have gotten past the decision to make Joesph sixteen and Mary thirteen, when in actuality Joesph was more likely in his thirties or forties, while Mary anywhere from thirteen to fifteen. There is also absolutely no mention of the fact that Mary was a consecrated virgin, who would have been betrothed in order to protect her status and her perpetual virginity, and not for love or even for procreation. (I would have been much more moved by a story of a Mary who never planned to have children at all! As would have been a more historically accurate way in which to portray a more rebellious Mary). What I cannot get past is the decision to make Mary a rebellious petulant who wishes to seduce Joesph and be a 'free-sprit', while simultaneously making Joe a paragon of virtue who ends up near death questioning everything. The fact that Mary, a strong female character in a faith tradition that has a lack thereof, and essentially strips her of everything that makes her strong in order to make her 'relateable' is offensive. Even her Magnificat, one of the largest speeches made by a woman in the Bible, becomes kind of a second-note in a fictionalized saga in which Mary is some ancient Hebrew version of a wide-eyed pixie dream girl, with Joe painted as the jaded hero trying to ground a miraculous story by inserting doubt erroneously at the end of the story, without so much as actually attempting to delve into that doubt in any meaningful way. This story is horribly misleading, not at all enjoyable and not recommended at all. ...more One of the books I read over Christmas was this very small one. Berg retells the birth of Jesus from a unique perspective. She tells us Mary and Joseph met, fell in love and married. "She was a wonder to behold, with her black curls escaped from her braid, her cheeks flushed dusky rose, her gaze so direct and yet mysterious." Thus was Joseph's first impression of a 13-year old Mary, and the result was a "heart knocking my chest like a caged animal wild to be released." Mind you they were both hidin One of the books I read over Christmas was this very small one. Berg retells the birth of Jesus from a unique perspective. She tells us Mary and Joseph met, fell in love and married. "She was a wonder to behold, with her black curls escaped from her braid, her cheeks flushed dusky rose, her gaze so direct and yet mysterious." Thus was Joseph's first impression of a 13-year old Mary, and the result was a "heart knocking my chest like a caged animal wild to be released." Mind you they were both hiding under a table at a relative's wedding at this point. He knew in that instant of meeting her that she would be his betrothed. Shortly thereafter they are promised to each other. They court, and in the process learn much about one another. Joseph realises that Mary is precocious, and Mary learns that Joseph is really quite serious and quiet. Berg portrays Mary from book's start as feeling "some call to greatness." That call becomes a divisive factor in the couple's love and marriage. As their wedding approaches, Mary beings to question the union. Why, she asks, "could she not be happy about the upcoming marriage to a man she deeply cared for and admired who would be a good father and provider?" When the answer came to her, it was in the form of an angel who gave her "great joy." "With God all things are possible," she is told. And soon she is pregnant with the son of God. Joseph does not believe her tale of the angel's visit. He shuns her, despite loving her, and only after she cajoles him into trusting her (somewhat) do they wed. Their life together is overshadowed by Jesus, the child Joseph loves best of all despite his continued misgiving. It's a gentle book and one that is easily read in one sitting. ...more Berg brings readers back into time in this poetic and delicate retelling of the Nativity story. This book focuses on the relationship between Joseph and Mary beginning when Mary they are children. When they meet later when Joseph is 16 and Mary is 13 years old an instant connection develops and the two are betrothed. While betrothed the two continue to live at their parents homes and Mary questions her engagement to Joseph. Mary is then visited by an angel that tells her that is with child. Jose Berg brings readers back into time in this poetic and delicate retelling of the Nativity story. This book focuses on the relationship between Joseph and Mary beginning when Mary they are children. When they meet later when Joseph is 16 and Mary is 13 years old an instant connection develops and the two are betrothed. While betrothed the two continue to live at their parents homes and Mary questions her engagement to Joseph. Mary is then visited by an angel that tells her that is with child. Joseph is angry and disappointed with Mary and plans on breaking their engagement until an angel also appears to him informing him of Mary’s immaculate conception. The two are then quietly married and begin living together but when they have to make an unexpected trip to Bethlehem Mary goes into labor in a strange town without the support of a midwife or her family. Berg interpretation of the lives of Mary and Joseph bring them to life and understandable to readers today. Mary is shy, sweet, energetic and courageous. Joseph is strong, conflicted and noble. A wonderful retelling of the Nativity and an eloquent interpretation of the relationship of Joseph and Mary. “For what reason would I lie to one I so love?” Appeal Notes (May contain spoilers): Character: The story looks into the lives of Joseph and Mary from childhood through the virgin birth, Jesus’ childhood and Joseph’s death. Location: Bethlehem, Nazareth Using the opening chapters of the Gospel of Luke for its basis, Berg's "The Handmaid and the Carpenter" brings a traditional, yet different story of Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph are teenagers from the same village of Nazareth and have a physical attraction to one another and are as different as night and day. Joseph is portrayed as a devout young man adhering to the laws, while Mary is a contemplative, intelligent girl who questions authority and has a respect for creation. The only authorit Using the opening chapters of the Gospel of Luke for its basis, Berg's "The Handmaid and the Carpenter" brings a traditional, yet different story of Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph are teenagers from the same village of Nazareth and have a physical attraction to one another and are as different as night and day. Joseph is portrayed as a devout young man adhering to the laws, while Mary is a contemplative, intelligent girl who questions authority and has a respect for creation. The only authority she does not question is the Lord's. How this startling news for Mary is handled, I believe, appropriately for the characters here. This was a thoughtful and charming novella and my only criticism is that Mary was a bit too modern for me - granted, Ms. Berg did not portray her as the silent, doe-eyed, suffering Madonna, but a girl on the verge of womanhood given an awesome, daunting responsibility, who is outspoken, thoughtful and not afraid to go against society's norm, yet all the while knowing what her duty and position in life must be. Ms. Berg also used the modern calendar as the time frame - scholars don't know if Jesus was born in December, and don't agree on the exact year or date, but it may have been either March or September. I assume she used the December birth date for familiarity. I thought the shift in POV at the end was jarring, but the author kept Joseph true to the character she portrayed. This story may not appeal to traditionalists who are used to and accept certain of the Christian church's doctrines, but it is nevertheless an appealing story and worth your consideration. ...more I enjoyed this imagined novel on the day-to-day lives of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and her husband Joseph. Elizabeth Berg did a good job of incorporating details from First Century Jerusalem life, for the common working class family. She described the daily routines, living arrangements, celebrations and events, and the food/meals of the day in such a way as to flesh out the meager details included in the New Testament. Of course, much of her story is surmised; there is no way to prove how/what I enjoyed this imagined novel on the day-to-day lives of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and her husband Joseph. Elizabeth Berg did a good job of incorporating details from First Century Jerusalem life, for the common working class family. She described the daily routines, living arrangements, celebrations and events, and the food/meals of the day in such a way as to flesh out the meager details included in the New Testament. Of course, much of her story is surmised; there is no way to prove how/what exactly the lives of Mary and Joseph were like. However, I think her writing is plausible and aligns with what scholars do know of the times. I felt like the book allowed me to feel a little bit of what it was like to be Mary, a young girl looking forward to married life, suddenly handed a great honor coupled with a huge responsibility, and in a supernatural way. The reaction of Joseph, her betrothed, was understandable, and his willingness to look over her alleged misconduct shows character. That he struggles with doubt regarding her account of events seems normal. The book was too short, in my opinion. I would have liked the author to continue through the remainder of Mary's life, but realize that there is no material available on which to base even the most general speculation. Therefore, including a narrative on these years would be purely one's creative imagination. Overall, I would like to read other works by this author and felt refreshed and content with the ending of this book. I give it 5 stars. ...more Meh...this book didn't do much for me. I thought it would be so interesting to read a book about Mary and Joseph beginning their lives together, but Berg failed to really capture my interest. I've been thinking about where she went wrong with this one, and I think, for me, it boils down to not enough character development. Obviously these are beloved historical figures that people around the world consider blessed and whom Christians read and hear about often, but still we know so little about t Meh...this book didn't do much for me. I thought it would be so interesting to read a book about Mary and Joseph beginning their lives together, but Berg failed to really capture my interest. I've been thinking about where she went wrong with this one, and I think, for me, it boils down to not enough character development. Obviously these are beloved historical figures that people around the world consider blessed and whom Christians read and hear about often, but still we know so little about them. Berg gives a disclaimer at the start of her book about taking creative license, but I don't think she was creative enough. She completely glossed over the birthing scene, I assume because she wants to make the story more about Mary and Joseph than about Jesus, but as this was such a pivotal moment in their marriage, I wanted to know more! I wanted to feel how scared they both must have been, but there was really none of that. Mary complained a bit about how she was missing out on the traditions associated with birthing during this time period, but that was about it. I also didn't feel the love I've always thought they must've shared. I think in order to truly do this story justice, Berg would have needed to make this story a lot longer and engage in more character development. If anyone has any suggestions for an author who better accomplishes this goal, I'd love to hear it! ...more I was initially attracted to this book because I love books that tell familiar stories in a new way or from a new perspective. This book is so much more than that. It makes Mary and Joseph tangible, realistic, and above all, achingly human. Joseph’s fury and broken heartedness is reason enough to read the book. Perhaps the Holy Family is not historically accurate in this book; however, they are exactly as I have pictured them since I was a little girl. Mary was beautiful and Joseph was tall, han I was initially attracted to this book because I love books that tell familiar stories in a new way or from a new perspective. This book is so much more than that. It makes Mary and Joseph tangible, realistic, and above all, achingly human. Joseph’s fury and broken heartedness is reason enough to read the book. Perhaps the Holy Family is not historically accurate in this book; however, they are exactly as I have pictured them since I was a little girl. Mary was beautiful and Joseph was tall, handsome and strong. Historically, little is known of both Mary and Joseph besides the bare facts that almost everyone can recite around Christmastime. In Roman Catholic catechism, they are distant, far away and untouchable figures. “The Handmaid and the Carpenter” made the Holy Family a real family for me. Too few reading experiences can be described as beautiful, but I found this to be a beautiful, touching read. A word of warning: Joseph dies at the end of the book. I was not prepared for this and, having lost my father suddenly three months ago, this was very, very upsetting for me. Read: I cried for about 30 minutes after I put the book down. If you are like me, a happy-ending fan, this is must-know information. Even with that knowledge, I still highly recommend this book. Not just at Christmas, either. ...more I was really disappointed with Elizabeth Berg's take on the nativity story. While I thought she did a great job of depicting Joseph, his doubts and the disappointment he felt regarding unmet expectations, the character of Mary fell flat. Mary's character seemed all over the place - one minute naive, one minute wise beyond her years, one minute she seems prophetic and divine, the next she seems just downright nuts. I found myself unable to relate to her and that's a shame because there was so muc I was really disappointed with Elizabeth Berg's take on the nativity story. While I thought she did a great job of depicting Joseph, his doubts and the disappointment he felt regarding unmet expectations, the character of Mary fell flat. Mary's character seemed all over the place - one minute naive, one minute wise beyond her years, one minute she seems prophetic and divine, the next she seems just downright nuts. I found myself unable to relate to her and that's a shame because there was so much potential to bring her character to life and give her a fresh face. I was also disappointed that there was almost no mention of Mary's emotional & spiritual struggles. Berg does make reference to rumors circulating around the village, but she doesn't go into detail about how that made Mary feel or what other struggles Mary faced. Did she lose friends? Did she ever feel ashamed? Wasn't she scared of being stoned to death? None of these questions are answered. The writing itself was lovely, and I'll likely read more books by Berg in the future, but I wouldn't recommend this novel. ...more I love Elizabeth Berg and I love Jesus, so I fully expected to relish this. It wasn't necessarily the skewed theology but just the failure to really flesh out the subject. It felt like the opening chapters of this story, not the entirety. Pick up some Anita Diamant (Red Tent) or Francine Rivers (Mark of the Lion) instead for similar themes. Gene Edwards's The Birth covers the incarnation story beautifully, both from the perspective of heaven and from earth. I did enjoy the speculative look on the I love Elizabeth Berg and I love Jesus, so I fully expected to relish this. It wasn't necessarily the skewed theology but just the failure to really flesh out the subject. It felt like the opening chapters of this story, not the entirety. Pick up some Anita Diamant (Red Tent) or Francine Rivers (Mark of the Lion) instead for similar themes. Gene Edwards's The Birth covers the incarnation story beautifully, both from the perspective of heaven and from earth. I did enjoy the speculative look on the Mary/Joseph relationship. I don't have a very developed imagination, but it stirred me on to ruminate on just how hard that situation must have been, especially on Joseph and their families. These were real people, with real feelings, in the moment that they had to deal with. They didn't get the benefit of the whole story, and their place in it, from hindsight like we do. All in all, possibly worth the very short time it takes to read the 150 or so pages, but I expected more rich, lush detail from Berg. ...more

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