Date Published: November 3, 2012
Number of Pages: 385
Print Price: $
eBook Price: $2.99
My children and I just finished a read-aloud and are about to read its sequel! Aram is A.K. Frailey’s inside story of a fictional tribal culture whose leaders and members must face fearful realities – internal and external, imagined and real – as they carry on typical human lives of family interaction and metaphysical questioning.
Frailey’s characters are complex and varied – no cardboard cut-out Good Guys and Bad Guys here – but with no attempt to render right and wrong ambiguous or iffy. Aram struggles against a formless fear he identifies with a real, beastly predator. Barak struggles to grow up past bravado to true leadership. Ishtar struggles against the bloodlust and will to power of his hard-hearted father. Not one gets a simple white hat to wear, but must grow up through real risks and gaps in self-awareness.
I especially like the way Frailey wove into the narrative a dawning of personal identification with whatever god made the world. The connection demonstrates that to approach God as a person is as much a daring venture as to approach Creation as a work of art! In the one is the other risk implied, and in that dawning is the proto-evangelium encapsulated. One of the characters in the book, Onias, is amazed to discover his own share in the creative power of the universe:
“The small figure stood with ears pointed, bright alert eyes, tail up and legs caught as if in mid-motion. It was the perfect image of a baby goat. It looked so real, so lifelike – yet he had created it from his own hands. He marveled. I now know how a woman must feel looking down at her infant for the first time. …I may have helped fashion it, but surely there is more at work here.”
The women in Aram are not mere backgrounds to manly characters, but are also well-developed. Namah tastes of power through her husband’s position, and is humbled through her own manipulative grasping to take that power. Jonas sees through the veneer of a traitor – clarity of vision born of her own virtue and transparency. Hagia suffers the curse of barrenness, and her attempt to protect her one son leads almost to his death. Pele makes a heroic attempt to avert disaster for the tribe which holds her enslaved. Even the deformed Gizah and her sister Bethel contribute in their small ways to the transformation of their father:
“His girls were like rainbows in the sky that belied the fierceness of the present storm. It was as a father that he had first felt the completeness of his manhood, and he vowed not to forget the promise of protection he had made in his heart toward them. He felt now that it was this very vow that upheld him …”
Our favorite scene (must tell without spoiling it for you) was one in which we saw a threat approaching in one character’s duplicity, but instead of seeing the clues given to point us to that awareness, we lived the experience of mounting tension in a less simplistic and cerebral way. I had to go back over that chapter, wondering at how the author had accomplished such a great carrying of her readers right into the lived experience of danger without leaving a trace. I must bow to her writing skills, because it was simply magic!
I have a particular dislike (a la Flannery O’Connor) of fiction that is a vehicle for ‘truth’ without being true. With trepidation I opened this book, but with delight and joy I read it aloud – anxious to get back and see what happened whenever we had to take a break. I very much appreciated the deep spiritual insights that Frailey wove in, and this chance to share them with my children. It’s a much harder task than I could manage – to tell realistically a story of a pre-Christian people, to avoid sermonizing, but also to treat truthfully their very human, very real need to find out about the God who made them and the way to please Him.
Frailey’s story reminds us that the movement from ‘paganism’ to ‘Christianity’ does not now, and never did, come through tribes, or demographic niches, or countries, but through individuals. Particularity becomes a window into the human experience of conversion. For example, here’s a moment in Ishtar’s life when the light begins to break through, threatening to shatter his world to pieces:
“Evil. Ishtar pondered the word from every angle. His confusion was great. The word pierced him like an arrow, but he could not explain why. Had he done evil? Was his father evil? Evil had always been applied to the enemy, but now it had been used to describe him. …questions would have to be answered…Ishtar felt he might break into many small pieces. Maybe this is the beginning of madness! he thought. …Where could he go? …He felt a wave of loneliness unlike any he had ever experienced before….Silently, he begged, …Someone, help me.”
Had you heard that conversion was a happy moment when the rosy lights began to shine, and the hero-is-out-of-the-woods music began to play in the background? Do you evangelize without thinking how awful – how utterly shattering – this moment might be for the person whose self-defenses are cut away, and whose illusions no longer hide him from scrutiny? Truly, as Frailey well shows, the coming of light into darkness can be one of life’s most painful experiences.
Fiction like this can help us empathize with those for whom the call – yes, even the proclamation of hope – of Christ threatens the very root and ground of selfhood. It can also prevent us from a simplistic understanding of pre-Christian cultures as merely ‘godless’ and ‘wrong’. Without any hint of easy universalism, or watered down ecumenism, Frailey models a frank respect for the lived difficulties of souls moving toward the light, toward the One God, and thus, toward Christ.
Knowing “the hope to which they are called,” we wait with sometimes-frustrated longing for the turning points, the rays of light, the conversions in these characters’ lives. Brava, Ann Frailey!
Original Language: English
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