The Handmaid and the Carpenter
Elizabeth Berg, . . Random, $16.95 (153pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-6538-7
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.
Reviewed on: 05/08/2006