Petru Popescu, . . Simon & Schuster, $15 (356pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-3263-7
Another entry into the popular biblical-figures-are-just-like-us genre, Popescu's chronicle looks at the life of the Virgin Mary. A hard-working Jewish teenager expelled from Nazareth with her struggling tribe, Mary has become infatuated with a visiting Roman soldier, the handsome Apella (who is, unbeknownst to Mary, Pontius Pilate, a spy for King Herod). Traveling with her rabbi-carpenter father to an artisans' fair, Mary meets a woodcarver named Joseph and is mesmerized. Confused, she journeys alone to the mountain where Joseph lost his family, seeking the counsel of God. Told in flashbacks from Mary and Pontius Pilate's viewpoint, the narrative can be hard to follow for readers without a knowledge of biblical history, though the language is of the modern-but-stilted variety, old-fashioned–sounding but easy to understand. Pocked with prurient details, such as a physician who specializes in lengthening the penis and old women employed to manually verify the virginity of brides-to-be, Romanian author Popescu isn't afraid to examine the violence and profanity of the Bible, but her tale's appeal may be limited to the devout.
Reviewed on: 07/27/2009