Wednesday, October 15, 2003

If I Perish: Historical Fiction Review

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach

Deborah Turner’s talent as a writer shines through the pages of her novel If I Perish. She took on the daunting task of writing a fictional account of the Biblical story of Queen Esther. Through vivid narrative and true-to-life dialogue, If I Perish is an excellent story that transports you thousands of years into the past, to the world of a young Jewish girl called of God to save her nation.

If I Perish, following the Bible’s account, is filled with intrigue, courage, and romance. The book opens with King Xerxes’ feast. He calls to him his wife Vashti, who refuses to obey the King’s command. Though the King loves his wife, he is forced to denounce her as his queen and send her away.

Pining away for Vashti’s love, the King slips into a depression. His ministers suggest he seek a new queen among the women of his kingdom. The young virgins are brought to the palace and placed under the watchful eye of Hagai the eunuch in the "House of Women". Here the girls are groomed and taught the graces most desirable to the King for a purification period of one year. Among them is Hadassah, a young beauty full of grace and charm, and niece of Mordecai the Jew.

Hagai sees something different in Esther, and she wins his favor. He takes her "under his wing’ so to speak, and teaches Esther all she needs to know in order to win the King’s heart. Unknown to the eunuch is Esther’s Jewish heritage.

Deborah Turner writes with sensitivity the meeting between King Xerxes and Esther. The King falls in love with Esther, and Esther returns to the King a tender love he never experience with Vashti. In If I Perish the author conveys the attitude that men had in that time period toward women, that a woman was a man’s property and subservient to men. But the King finds this is not at all true for his Esther. She becomes his confidant and lover, his friend and most loyal subject. Esther is chosen as Xerxes’ wife and queen.

Esther was advised by her uncle Mordecai not to reveal to the King her Jewish origin. Mordecai has grieved the loss of his dear Hadassah (Esther), yet believes that there is a great purpose for Esther.

Ms. Turner depicts Haman, the prime minister, as the Bible evil, self-serving man, bent on gaining all the power he can to the point he believes it is his right to be King. Haman hates the Jews, and his hatred is further flamed when Mordecai refuses to bow to Haman. Haman then persuades the King to rid the kingdom of all Jews, young and old, man, woman, and child. Haman does not know that Esther is a Jew and Mordecai’s niece.

The decree is issued. Mordecai becomes a target of Haman’s hatred, and Haman has a gallows built by another Jew, a gallows he intends for Mordecai. When Esther receives word of the decree, she faces the most challenging time of her life. She must speak to the King and reveal that she is a Jew, and then reveal Haman’s plan. No one, including the queen, could appear before the King without being summoned by him. To do so meant a sentence of death.

Esther risks her life to save her nation by entering the King’s throne room. She knows the King trusts Haman, but in spite of that, she follows through on a plan that had to be divinely inspired.

Before she goes to the King, Esther orders all Jews to hold a fast for three days and nights. She enters the fast as well with her servants

On day three, Esther dresses in her best royal attire. She then enters the King’s throne room looking beautiful and radiant. Xerxes is smitten by her each time he beholds Esther. She stands in the inner court of the palace, fearing for her life, not knowing what the King will do. Xerxes holds out his scepter. She is free to speak to him. Esther asks the King and Haman to attend a banquet she will have prepared. Haman is proud the Queen has requested his presence and has no idea what is in store for him. After the banquet, Esther asks the King and Haman to attend another banquet the following night, where she will reveal her secret.

At the feast, Esther tells the King she is a Jew, and about Haman’s plan to destroy her people. Esther begs the King to spare the Jews and to delve out punishment upon the evil Haman. Haman begs for his life. Xerxes is extremely distraught, and walks out to the garden, no doubt to think over what has just been revealed to him. He had trusted Haman all this time, only to discover the cruelty and hatred of a plan to destroy the Jews along with his beloved Esther.

While Xerxes is gone, Haman begins employing Esther for help. He goes so far as to lay his hand upon her, and when the King enters, Xerxes believes Haman was attempting to force himself on Esther. He then orders Haman’s be hung upon the gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

If I Perish is a book that is a reminder that self-sacrifice for the good of others is not only honorable but also far-reaching. If you have never read the Biblical account, If I Perish compels the reader to do so.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and highly recommend it. In a world where most literature seems to be the same authors and the same kinds of stories, If I Perish is a refreshing change, with a fresh voice from a new writer who has great potential to take her readers into a new place. In your mind’s eye, you see the luxurious palace, and the richly colored silks that adorned Esther. The role of the eunuchs is made clear to the reader, for they, too, were men who sacrificed much in order to fulfill their duty to the King.

If I Perish reminds us to stand up for those in need, those in danger, and those who are persecuted. I give this book five stars!

If I Perish is available from Publish America and all online bookstores.

Reviewed by Rita Gerlach

Rita Gerlach is the author of three romantic historical novels. All of which have received five star reviews. The Rebel’s Pledge is her first book, a story of courage and love in colonial times. Thorns In Eden and The Everlasting Mountains are companion novels, set during the rise of the American Revolution and the Indian War of 1774. Both books have received rave reviews. She is currently writing another historical novel, The Sacrifice, which she hopes to complete by next year.
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