By Kristen Wolf
Published by Crown Publishers
Hardcover: 304 pages
July 12, 2011; $25.00 US/$28.95 CAN; 978-0307717696
Recently I was offered a copy of "The Way", the debut fictional novel of Kristen Wolf to review. Wolf is a graduate of Georgetown University and has an M.A. in creative writing from Hollins University, and she is a Phi Beta Kappa. Her website is http://www.kristenwolf.com/, and you can also connect to her via Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheWayNovel. Oprah Magazine called it "A title to pick up now."
March is Women's History Month, so how about celebrating it with a book that is sure to intrigue and turn religious convention on it's male godhead? And before you get all righteous and in my face about "feminism" and "the church", I am not endorsing "The Way" as a new religion, or biblical reference. It is fiction...fiction that opens long-closed doors and encourages readers to venture out of the realm of Never Question Land and hopefully opens a few cobwebby closed minds.
"The knowledge about the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but to the rest it comes by means of parables so that they may look but not see and listen but not understand." - Jesus (Luke 8:9-10 cf. Ireneus Against Heresies 1:3:1).
Inside the book cover front flap are these words:
"What if one of the world's greatest spiritual healers was not who we thought he was?"
And on the first page, a quote from the Gnostic Gospels:
"I am androgynous. I am Mother and I am Father...
I am the Womb that gives shape to the All...
And I am inviting you into the Exalted, Perfect Light."
And so begins the story of Anna, whom we first encounter as a very young girl near Palestine, 7 A.D. Her father, Yoseph, is shattered by the stillborn death of her younger brother, Jesus. Anna's mother, Mari, never fully recovers from the traumatic childbirth, and soon dies. During the difficult birth of Anna's brother, the local healing woman, Zahra, is called upon to help. Zahra knows herbal medicine, and is shunned by the community until there is some calamity of sickness. And Zahra is a secret follower of the old ways that worshipped a feminine deity. However, even Zahra's potions were not enough to prevent the death of Mari nor her son.
Not long afterward, all the townsmen decide to punish Zahra for plotting evil against Yoseph's family, and they stone her to death, saying she was a tool of the Devil. But, unbeknown to Yoseph, Zahra has been watching young Anna, and had a premonition of her own death. She gives a mysterious copper medallion necklace to Anna, one with an image of a majestic sycamore tree, before the murderous crowd of men arrive.
Soon, Yoseph cannot abide the sight of young Anna, whom we are told is very boyish in looks and actions. He sells her to group of shepherds, led by Solomon, disguising her as a boy by dressing her in male attire and hacking off her hair.
And thus begins the quest of Anna to discover her true identity and her own redemption that leads her eventually to a secret society of religious women hiding in caves and who worship the Mother and an ancient earth-centric religion simply called: "The Way".
For new writer, Kristen Wolf, "The Way" is a great mix of both myth and history. Really enjoyed the book, (and here's the tricky part), once I was able to stop trying to mesh her story step for step with that of the biblical Jesus. My first impression was that Wolf was taking far too many liberties and I even put the book aside for a few days because I was finding fault at every biblical familiar storyline and character.
If you are a bible purist and have no desire to question your beliefs, then this is probably not a book you would find at all palatable and you are likely be highly offended by "The Way". However, it occurred to me late one night while soaking in a hot bathtub and reading (my favorite hobby), that I was going about this review the wrong way (no pun intended); I needed to set aside my childhood ingrained Sunday school teachings and start anew at the beginning of the book with a more open mind and allow Wolf to bring a fresh perspective to a very old story.
By the use of herbal remedies and other natural healing methods, Wolf shows us how superstitious and poorly educated people might mistake something quite normal and non magical as an undeniable miracle. Here is a spiritual philosophy that flies in the face of tradition, touches a nerve, and pushes the reader to question and to expand their own personal belief boundaries. The bible does not tell us much about Jesus, and even religious scholars cannot agree on many aspects of the man nor the divinity. Wolf, citing her own inspiration coming partially from studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the mysterious ancient Qumran society, has taken a very brave stance in her fictional, but obviously well thought out story. I applaud her imagination and her attempt to create new conversations.
Put aside your comfort zone, dive deep into new soul-reaching imaginary depths and enjoy a story told far differently than anything you've been taught before. And you don't have to lose your religion, just loosen a little of the narrow interpretations you've carried around for a long time; be open to a thought-provoking read. I am betting you'll enjoy it.