Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Second Book in Trilogy by Martha Shelley

The Stars in Their Courses, a novel, by Martha Shelley (Ebisu Publications 2014), trade paperback, 324 pages.

This is the second novel in a trilogy by spiritual feminist Martha Shelley. It continues the story begun in the first of the three novels, The Throne in the Heart of the Sea, and like that novel is set in the ninth century BCE in the area often known as the Levant, where most of the Bible takes place. Like the first novel, it’s written in today’s sometimes colloquial American English while keeping some of the terms used in the Ancient Near East (ANE). Also like the first novel of the trilogy, it presents alternative views of biblical characters such as Jezebel and Elijah and creates additional characters such as Tamar and her mutarajjul, Bez. (As Shelley explains in the book’s glossary, a mutarajjul refers to a “woman dressed in male clothing, usually employed as a soldier or harem guard.”)

 As the second novel opens, Tamar has arrived in Egypt, with her guard Bez, to continue her study of medicine with the blessings of her former lover, Jezebel, who has married Ahab and become Queen of Israel. Jezebel feels she must produce an heir for Ahab in order to keep her status. Jezebel achieves motherhood, yet enjoys flirting with the women of Ahab’s harem. Elijah has become, among other things, a murderer. Both Tamar and Bez find new women to love in Egypt, and Bez begins to develop her artistic talent. Shelley weaves into this story the worship of various ANE goddesses including Asherah, Neith, Anat, and the pre-Islamic Arabic goddesses Allat, Al-Uzza, and Manat.

 Shelley’s excellent descriptions of details bring this time period and its people to life; for example, her description of the flooding of the “Great River,” including its devastation and harm to humans, and Tamar’s learning, in the clinic where she is receiving training, how to treat accompanying medical conditions. This includes Tamar’s amputation of a leg.

 In addition to the glossary, the back matter includes the art and information about the Seal of Jezebel that Max Dashu created from a small photo that Shelley took of the original in Israel. The front matter includes the seal, as well as maps of “the ancient world,” including Jerusalem and the Great River, and the Levant including Israel. In addition, a map of Assyria is placed at the beginning of chapter 29.

 Shelley’s background includes Goddess religion and Jewish feminism. She also is a poet and one of the founders of the Gay Liberation Front in New York City.

In a novel series such as this the reader may wonder if it’s necessary to read the whole series, or the previous book, to understand each book. In my opinion Shelley has incorporated enough material in the second book so that you don’t have to read the first book to understand the second. (But of course you may want to for enjoyment.) In addition, because of the subtlety with which Shelley includes the material from the first book, this material will not interfere with the enjoyment of the second book for people who have already read the first one.

 Yes, the second book in this trilogy is as good as the first. I look forward to the publication of the third.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Just Published: Merlin Stone Remembered

Last April I was asked to write what is known in the book trade as a “blurb,” or “endorsement” of a work-in-progress planned to be published as a remembrance of Merlin Stone and centered around the remembrances of Merlin’s life partner of 34 years, Lenny Schneir. A few months later the book was acquired by Llewellyn Worldwide. It has now been published with the authors listed as David B. Axelrod, Carol F. Thomas, and Lenny Schneir. A quote from my blurb is included among the many endorsements printed in the beginning and on the back cover of this book. As is common when a publisher has received many endorsements, they used only one line from most blurbs, including mine. I’d like to share with you here my entire blurb for the book, Merlin Stone Remembered, and also give you a little more of an idea of what the book contains.

“This book is a lovely and loving tribute to the late Merlin Stone, a foremother of Goddess feminism, author, sculptor, and professor of art history. Remembering Merlin Stone includes a beautiful and revealing memoir by her life partner, poet and poker player Lenny Shneir, along with his poetry, previously unpublished material by Stone, pictures, and other treasures by a number of contributors. What a gift to those of us familiar with Stone’s work, as well as those who want to know more about her life, both personal and professional.”
--Judith Laura, author of Goddess Spirituality for the 21st Century: From Kabbalah to Quantum Physics
The book also includes a preface, essay, and epilogue by Carol Thomas; an editor’s note, poem, and several essays by David Axelrod; a long introduction by Gloria Orenstein, placing Stone’s work in the context of work that came before and was contemporaneous with hers; excerpts from Stone’s writing--published and unpublished--including chapter 10 of When God was a Woman, “Unraveling the Myth of Adam and Eve”; letters from admirers (mostly unattributed) including one (attributed) from Robert Kennedy in a section on Stone’s sculpture; and an essay by Cynthia Stone Davis. The book also has many illustrations.

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