cover image LIVING WATER


Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., . . Harper San Francisco, $24.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-06-000087-5

Inspired by the New Testament vignette about the woman at the well, first-time novelist Hendricks imagines the life story of a Samaritan woman who spreads the word of God after an encounter with Jesus Christ. Growing up, Maryam is viewed with suspicion in her village; neighbors derisively call her "gibora," meaning brave and bold—qualities that girls are not supposed to have. Since the humiliating day when the Roman soldiers stripped and beat the Samaritan men in front of their wives and children, the men have treated women as chattel. When she's 12, Maryam's father marries her to Jalon, a spoiled, dissipated youth, but Jalon divorces her under the law of erwat dabar, which allows husbands to cast aside wives virtually at will. Having no other means of support, Maryam remarries four more times to a sorry collection of men, two of whom commit suicide, before finding Yeshua, a gentle, like-minded husband. She meets Jesus at the well when he asks for a drink of water, promising in return "a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Maryam is surprised that he speaks to her, as Jews don't normally have dealings with Samaritans, let alone Samaritan women. At Jesus' bidding, Maryam brings Yeshua to meet him, and Jesus sends them out to preach the word that men and women are equal under God. Hendricks has his characters speak in Southern black vernacular ("Why men treat women like that?... Sumpin wrong with women?"), which, while slightly distracting at first, is surprisingly effective. The slow-moving action and inspirational tone will turn off some readers, but those interested in biblical history will appreciate this inventive variation. (Feb.)