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The story of Sarah--and of history itself--begins in the cradle of civilization: the Sumerian city-state of Ur, a land of desert heat, towering gardens, and immense wealth. The daughter of a powerful lord, Sarah is raised in great luxury, but balks at the arranged marriage her father has planned for her. The groom is handsome and a nobleman, but on ...
The story of Sarah--and of history itself--begins in the cradle of civilization: the Sumerian city-state of Ur, a land of desert heat, towering gardens, and immense wealth. The daughter of a powerful lord, Sarah is raised in great luxury, but balks at the arranged marriage her father has planned for her. The groom is handsome and a nobleman, but on their wedding day, Sarah panics and impulsively flees to the vast, empty marshes outside the city walls. There she meets a young man, Abram, a member of a nomadic tribe of outsiders. Drawn to this exotic stranger, Sarah spends the night with him, but reluctantly returns to her father’s house. But on her return, still desperate to avoid another wedding, she drinks a poisonous potion that will make her barren and thus unfit for marriage.
Many years later, Abram’s people return to Ur, and he discovers that the lost, rebellious girl from the marsh has been transformed into the most splendid and revered woman in Sumeria--the high priestess of the goddess Ishtar. But the memory of their night together has always haunted Sarah, and she gives up her exalted life to join Abram's tribe and follow the one true God, an invisible deity who speaks only to Abram. It is then that her journey truly begins--a journey that holds the key to her remarkable destiny as the mother of nations.
From the great ziggurat of Ishtar and the fertile valleys of Canaan to the bedchamber of the mighty Pharaoh himself, Sarah’s story reveals an ancient world full of beauty, intrigue, and miracles.
From the Hardcover edition.
Sarai clumsily pushed aside the curtain that hung in the doorway and ran to the middle of the brick terrace that overlooked the women's courtyard. Dawn was breaking, and there was just enough light for her to see the blood on her hands. She closed her eyes to hold back the tears.
She did not need to look down to know that her tunic was stained. She could feel the fine woollen cloth sticking wetly to her thighs and knees.
Here it was again! A sharp pain, like a demon's claw moving between her hips! She stood frozen, her eyes half closed. The pain faded as suddenly as it had come.
Sarai held out her soiled hands in front of her. She should have implored Inanna, the almighty Lady of Heaven, but no word passed her lips. She was petrified. Fear, disgust, and denial mingled in her mind.
Only a moment ago, she had woken suddenly, her belly ringed with pain, and put her hands between her thighs. Into this blood that was flowing out of her for the first time. The bridal blood. The blood that creates life.
It had not come as she had been promised it would. It was not like dew or honey. It flowed as if from an invisible wound. In a moment of panic, she had seen herself being emptied of blood like a ewe under the sacrificial knife.
She had reacted like a silly child, and now she felt ashamed. But her terror had been so great that she had sat up moaning on her bed and rushed outside.
Now, in the growing light of day, she looked at her bloodstained hands as if they did not belong to her. Something strange was happening in her body, something that had obliterated her happy childhood at a stroke.
Tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and all the days and years to come, would be different. She knew what awaited her. What awaited every girl in whom the bridal blood flowed. Her handmaid Sililli and all the other women in the household would laugh. They would dance and sing and give thanks to Nintu, the Midwife of the World.
But Sarai felt no joy. At that moment, she wished her body was someone else's.
She took a deep breath. The smell of the night fires floating in the cool air of early morning calmed her a little. The coolness of the bricks beneath her bare feet did her good. There was no noise in the house or the gardens. Not even the flight of a bird. The whole city seemed to be holding its breath, waiting for the sun to burst forth. For the moment it was still hidden on the other side of the world, but the ocher light that preceded it was spreading over the horizon like oil.
Abruptly Sarai turned and went back through the curtain into her bedchamber. In the dim light, it was just possible to make out the big bedstead where Nisaba and Lillu lay sleeping. Without moving, Sarai listened to her sisters' regular breathing. At least she had not woken them.
She advanced cautiously to her own bed. She wanted to sit down, but hesitated.
She thought of the advice Sililli had given her. Change your tunic, take off the sheet, roll the soiled straw in it, go to the door and take some balls of wool dipped in sweet oil, wash your thighs and genitals with them, then take some other balls, scented with essence of terebinth, and use them to absorb the blood. All she had to do was perform a few simple actions. But she couldn't. She didn't know why, but she couldn't bear even the thought of touching herself.
Anger was beginning to replace fear. What if Nisaba and Lillu discovered her and roused the whole household,...
1. Read the portions of Genesis in the Bible pertaining to Sarah’s story. Discuss how the novel changes your perspective on an episode crucial to Jews, Muslims, and Christians. How familiar were you with the story beforehand? Does Sarah, the novel, raise issues you haven’t thought about before in your own religion?
2. In Sarah’s time, the role of women was often precarious. In her father’s home, she was pampered, but bound to marry who he wished; as a high priestess, she wielded great power, but had no control over how her body would be used; even after marrying Abram for love, she was still given to Pharaoh as if she were a prostitute. Do you see parallels to the lives of women today? Why, or why not?
3. On pages 39 and 40, a soothsayer predicts Sarai will bear two children, and, when pressed, adds, “She can be a wife without a husband. She is the kind of woman who provokes violent acts…The gods will decide her fate: queen or slave.” In what ways did these predictions come true? How were they inaccurate?
4. Sarai tells Abram on page 117, “The gods of the lords of Ur aren’t anyone else’s gods! We are the only ones who can invoke them!” Do you see parallels to the current strife in the world? How have things changed in thousands of years?
5. On page 122, Sarai thinks of Abram: “This was the man she loved…A man who loved her without saying it in words, but who showed it through his jealousy and rage.” Is this love? How important is love to Sarai and to the various societies she lived in?
6. On page 158, Sarai tells Abram, “I’m going with you becauseyou are Abram and I am Sarai.” How does Sarai feel about Abram’s claims? She chose to go with him at the temple in Ur; does she choose to follow him now or is it no longer her decision to make?
7. Sarah’s unchanging beauty is portrayed as both a miracle and a curse. How does this relate to today’s world, where plastic surgery and “extreme makeovers” are becoming the norm? If Sarah were alive today, what do you think would be her fate?
8. Over the course of Sarah’s life, she is immersed in several different cultures: the highly civilized city-state Ur, the nomadic mar.Tu people, the opulent and exotic palace of Pharaoh. What were the similarities? How were women treated in each society? Where was Sarah the most content? Where would you be most content?
9. Several of Sarah’s plans—drinking a potion to avoid forced marriage, giving Abraham a son through Hagar—work perfectly, but are ultimately mistakes. Can you think of other examples? What are the repercussions? What happens when Abraham makes mistakes?
10. Throughout the novel, there are instances where Sarah behaves selfishly, often to the detriment of those around her. She shows almost no grief upon her brother’s death. She encourages Lot’s crush on her. She banishes Hagar when the woman is almost ready to give birth. Are there factors that mitigate or excuse these acts? Would you trust her? Does Sarah mature? Is she a good role model?
11. On page 205, Sarai says, “He’s your god, Abram, not mine.” What is the first sign that Sarai is beginning to believe in Yhwh? What fuels her conversion? Are her motives pure?
12. Abram tells Sarai on page 283 that Yhwh has changed their names to Abraham and Sarah. How is this a turning point in the story? Does it make them different people?
13. How does Sarah’s legacy affect today’s society? Your life?
14. Ancient Ur is located in what is now Iraq. Does this fact alter your feelings about what you have read in any way? Does it change your beliefs about that country?
15. The author, Marek Halter, said, “I have always been fascinated by the strong female figures in the Bible, and frustrated by the lack of documentation available on them. Re-examining the Old Testament through the feminine perspective has rendered this ancient text more emotionally accessible and has given it a modern appeal.” Do you think he achieved his goal? Would you call this a “feminist” version of the story? Does it ring true?
From the Hardcover edition.