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She recognized the voices: Lillu's piercing shriek and Sililli's more muted and anxious tones. Some of the handmaids had already searched the garden, but finding nothing, had gone away again.
Silence returned, except for the murmur of the water flowing in the irrigation channels and the chirping of the birds.
From where she was, Sarai could see everything but could not be seen. Her father's house was one of the most beautiful in the royal city. It was shaped like a hand enclosing a huge rectangular central courtyard, which was reached through the main entrance. At either end, the courtyard was separated by two green-and-yellow brick buildings, open only for receptions and celebrations, and by two smaller courtyards, the women's and the men's. The men's quarters, with their white staircases, overhung the temple of the family's ancestors, the storehouses, and the room where her father's scribes worked, while the women's chambers were built above the kitchens, the handmaids' dormitories, and the chamber of blood. Both opened onto a broad terrace, shaded by bowers of vines and wisteria, with a view of the gardens. The terrace allowed the men to join the women at night without having to cross the courtyards.
From her grove, Sarai could also see a large part of the city, and, towering over it like a mountain, the ziggurat, the Sublime Platform. Not a day went by that she did not come here to admire the gardens of the ziggurat. They were a lake of foliage between earth and sky, full of every flower and every tree the gods had sown on the earth. From this riot of greenery emerged the steps, covered in black-and-white ceramics, that led up to the Sublime Bedchamber, with its lapis lazuli columns and walls. There, once a year, the king of Ur was united with the Lady of Heaven.
Today, though, she had eyes only for what was happening in the house. Everything seemed to have calmed down. Sarai had the impression they had stopped searching for her. When the handmaids had appeared earlier in the garden, she had been tempted to join them. But now it was too late for her to leave her hiding place. With every hour that passed, she was more at fault. If anyone saw her in this state, they would scream with fright and turn away, shielding their eyes as if they had seen a woman possessed by demons. It was unthinkable that she could show herself like this to the women. It would be a blemish on her father's house. She had to stay here and wait until nightfall. Only then could she perform her ablutions in the garden's irrigation basin. After that, she would go and ask Sililli for forgiveness. With enough tears, and enough terror in her voice, to mollify her.
Until then she had to forget her thirst and the heat that was gradually transforming the still air into a strange miasma of dry dust.
SHE stiffened when she heard the shouts.
"Sarai! Answer me, Sarai! I know you're there! Do you want to die today, with the shame of the gods on you?"
She recognized the thick calves, the yellow-and-white tunic with its black border instantly.
"Who else were you expecting?" the handmaid retorted, in an angry whisper.
"How did you manage to find me?"
Sililli took a few steps back. "Stop your chattering," she said, lowering her voice even more, "and come out of there right now before anyone sees you."
"You mustn't look at me," Sarai warned.
She emerged from the copse, straightening up with difficulty, her muscles aching from her long immobility.
Sililli stifled a cry. "Forgive her, almighty Ea! Forgive her!"
Sarai did not dare look Sililli in the face. She stared down at her short, round shadow on the ground, and saw her raise her arms to heaven then hug them to her bosom.
"Almighty Lady of Heaven," Sililli muttered, in a choked voice, "forgive me for having seen her soiled face and hands! She is only a child, holy Inanna. Nintu will soon purify her."
Sarai restrained herself from rushing into the handmaid's arms. "I'm so sorry," she said, in a barely audible whisper. "I didn't do as you told me to. I couldn't."
She did not have time to say more. A linen sheet was flung over her, covering her from head to foot, and Sililli's hands clasped her waist. Now Sarai no longer needed to hold back, and she leaned against the firm, fleshy body of the woman who had not only been her nurse, but had also been like a mother to her.
"Yes, you silly little thing," Sililli whispered in her ear through the linen, the anger gone from her voice, the tremor of fear still there, "I've known about this hiding place for a long time. Since the first time you came here! Did you think you could escape your old Sililli? In the name of almighty Ea, what possessed you? Did you think you could hide from the sacred laws of Ur? To go where? To remain at fault your whole life? Oh, my little girl! Why didn't you come to see me? Do you think you're the first to be afraid of the bridal blood?"
Sarai wanted to say something to justify herself, but Sililli placed a hand on her mouth.
"No! You can tell me everything later. Nobody must see us here. Great Ea! Who knows what would happen if you were seen like this? Your aunts already know you've become a woman. They're waiting for you in the chamber of blood. Don't be afraid, they won't scold if you arrive before the sun goes down. I've brought you a pitcher of lemon water and terebinth bark so you can wash your hands and face. Now throw your soiled tunic under the tamarisk. I'll come back later to burn it. Wrap yourself in this linen veil. Make sure you avoid your sisters, or nobody will be able to stop those pests from going and telling your father everything."
Sarai felt Sililli's hand stroking her cheek through the cloth.
"Do what I ask of you. And hurry up about it. Your father must know nothing of your escapade."
"What now?" Sililli said.
"Will you be there, too? In the chamber of blood, I mean."
"Of course. Where else should I be?"
WASHED and scented, her linen veil knotted over her left shoulder, Sarai reached the women's courtyard without meeting a soul. She had gathered all her courage to approach the mysterious door she had never gone anywhere near.
From the outside, the chamber of blood was nothing but a long white wall with no windows that took up almost the entire space below the quarters reserved for the women: Ichbi's wife, sisters, daughters, female relatives, and handmaids. The door was cleverly concealed by a cane portico covered with a luxuriant ocher-flowered bignonia, so that it was possible to cross the women's courtyard in all directions without ever seeing it.
Sarai went through the portico. Before her was a small double door of thick cedarwood, the bottom half painted blue and the top half red: the door of the chamber of blood.
Sarai had only a few steps to take to open this door. But she did not move. Invisible threads were holding her back. Was it fear?
Like all girls her age, she had heard many stories about the chamber of blood. Like all girls her age, she knew that once a month women went and shut themselves in there for seven days. During full moons, they would gather there to make vows and petitions that could be said nowhere else. It was a place where women laughed, wept, ate honey and cakes and fruit, shared their dreams and secrets--and sometimes died in agony. Occasionally, through the thick walls, Sarai had heard the screams of a woman in labor. She had seen women go in there, happy with their big bellies, and not come out again. No men ever entered, or even tried to peer inside. Anyone curious or foolhardy enough to do so would carry the stain of their offense down with them to the hell of Ereshkigal.
But in truth, she knew very little of what went on there. She had heard the most absurd rumors, whispered by her sisters and cousins. Unopened girls did not know what happened to those who entered the chamber of blood for the first time, and none of the munus, the opened women, over divulged the secret.
Her day had come. Who could go against the will of the gods? Sililli was right. It was time. She could not remain at fault any longer. She must have the courage to open that door.
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted September 1, 2010
Sarai was born to one of the great lords of Ur. Hers was a life filled with wealth and beauty until the fateful day when she became a woman. Suddenly, she was expected to marry a man she'd never met and serve him as a virtual slave, his every whim her command. It was not to be borne! Sarai flees her father's house and plunges into the countryside, where she stumbles across Abram, a simple man to whom she is strangely drawn. Although Sarai is caught and returned to her father, she takes a concoction rendering her barren. Her unique states propels her life along a different course and she becomes a priestess of Ishtar, Ur's goddess of war. Once more, Abram enters her life and Sarai joins Abram at last, becoming his wife. Although the young couple seems happy enough, Sarai remains barren and no child is born to them. Sarai offers Abram her handmaid, Hagar, to give him the son he so desperately wants. A quarrel eventually breaks out between the two women, as they compete for position in Abram's world. Told from the point of view of Sarai herself, this book is a unique glimpse into what life in Biblical times might have been like. At times, the story is raw and brutally realistic and at others, Halter's words create visions of inspiration for the faithful. Well written with great characterizations.
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Posted February 1, 2014
More fiction than history. I was mislead by the critical reviews that compared it to The Red Tent. The writing doesn't begin to equal that of Anita Diamant. The characters are inauthentic and lack dignity. This wonderful story should have been a great book but it lacks authenticity and talent.
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Posted July 30, 2012
Posted July 20, 2010
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An interesting tale, told from Sarah's POV and starting with her childhood. I'll have to look more closely at my Old Testament text for accuracy, but I have to say that Halter tells a mesmerizing story! I did find myself wanting more about her life with Jacob, but the pieces that are in the book are well-written and flow beautifully. It's a fairly short book - and nothing heavy or theological, although it should be obvious that God's relationship with Abraham plays a big part in the book. An enjoyable, easy read.
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Posted June 2, 2005
If you like reading lies and fabrications about biblical characters then this book is for you. Frankly, I feel that the truth is so much more appealing. If you want to know the real Sarah, read the Bible. A good novel? Read my recommendation...
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Posted November 3, 2013
This book was a bit sexually explicit and not an accurate account of the Bible's version of Sarah. Other than that it was enjoyable to read and did give many interesting things to consider about the time period in which it is believed that the Abraham/Sarah/Hagar saga took place.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 12, 2009
Excellent for someone interested in readying historically correct novel. There is enough of biblical truth to make an interesting novel.
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Posted September 24, 2009
Sarah was a captivating and a surprisingly steamy read which provided an interesting glimpse into its historical setting. However, the book did not hold true to the Biblical Sarah. Many of the facts were there, but many were distorted. The most glaring discrepancy is that in the novel Sarah is portrayed as the daughter of a lord who became the Sacred Handmaid of the Blood, and who had no knowledge of Abraham's family or his way of life. But in fact, she and Abraham had the same father, Terah, and they grew up together. There are many other alterations from the Biblical account, and so it should be read for the novel it is and not for a better understanding of the character on which she is based.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 14, 2006
This is a great book! I have started reading more historical fiction related to the Bible and this has been one of my favorite books. I am now reading the other books in this series and cannot put them down. If you love to read this book is for you!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 5, 2006
I thought it was absolutely worth the read. It was assigned to me for my world history class and I fell in love with it. It is one of the best books I have ever read, worth every cent. If you ever needed a book to read this is the one. Don't let the bible origan break you away from reading it. It is great for those of you who believe in God but not neccesarally only for them. It mentions God but does not push the religion. For most of the book Sarai (Sarah's name for most of the book) doesn't really even believe in Him. Please read it and I promise you won't regret it!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 25, 2006
this is a WONDERFUL recounting of Sarai (Sarah in the bible) the wife of Abram (Abraham) and how their relationship came to be. I recommend this book to any lovers of history or historical romaces. And the sex scenes aren't nearly as explicit as some other things i've read. It's actually pretty censored in many parts of the book where the author could've gone further. DEFINITLY A GREAT READ! couldn't put it down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 1, 2006
I thought this was a wonderful book. Halter gives a voice to the women of the Bible, who even though had a huge part in the story of God, were mysteriously left out of the Bible (for the most part) except in reference to their husbands. This book is definatly included on my Top 50 List.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 1, 2005
The books is so wonderful. It is good for people who wants to rediscover their faith or just want to fill the blanks left in the bible. If you want a present for your grandmother, this is the right book. But if you are looking for something for your mother in law, you have a wrong choice buddy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 28, 2005
The writting in the book is fantastic... it could have been the best book I have ever read, except that there were some every explicit sex scenes (worse then most R movies I have ever seen)That made the book totally unappropriate. Don't read it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 23, 2005
This is by far the best book I have ever read! I have read many books. Marek Halter couldn't have captured biblical truth more accurately. The sex scene is hardly R rated like a fellow reviewer states it to be. I loved the sex scenes as they bring necessar feelings to the reader(feelings that Sarah probably experienced). Please go back and read Genesis to compare.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 26, 2005
I couldn't put this book down, by far one of the best books I have ever read. Marek Halter combines historical fiction with biblical facts to tell an amazing story capturing every sceneWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 13, 2005
Posted September 14, 2005
First and foremost you have to understand this is a fictional story based on bibical facts. I enjoyed reading the book as a fictional story. What made it fun for me, was to maybe see another side that is not told in the bible. My only fault I found, was that Sarah became whining and jealous after all those years of loving and following Abram without question. I love her transition in her later years and when she finally came herself to God in the river, that he, in fact, granted her prays of age and giving of life. This is the moral of this story. I would recommend reading this book, but keep in mind that it is an historial fiction.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 23, 2005
I loved reading this book, 'Sarah' gave me insight into the one of my favorite ancient cultures... Sumer/Babylon. As a former teacher of history, this opened new avenues for me to research on my own.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.