As someone who has read Genesis a number of times, I confess that Rebekah was never one of my favorite characters. In fact, I generally don’t like her. After all, what redeeming qualities could exist in a woman who would disguise her youngest son as her eldest to deceive her blind husband so her favored youngest son could steal the elder’s inheritance? But finding those redeeming qualities and a plausible potential explanation is exactly what Orson Scott Card does.
I happened to find Rebekah among my mother’s stack of novels while looking for something else. Since I’ve enjoyed other books of Card’s, I was intrigued enough to give it a try. At first, it was more a train wreck curiosity. How could Card, an author I trusted, make a book about a woman I didn’t care for interesting?
The story starts in Rebekah’s youth among her father, Bethuel’s, tents. But that’s easy, right? Most kids are cute or likable at some point. Surely, Rebekah had to experience some life event that turned her bitter toward her husband. Or perhaps, she just grew that way. But in helping Bethuel run his household, Rebekah proves herself industrious, creative, and sympathetic. She faces the complications of her father going deaf from an accident, suitors she does not wish to marry, and the conflict between the worship of the God of Abraham and that of Asherah and Ba’al. The more I read of Rebekah, the more I liked and admired her. Card portrays her in a very human light with all the doubts and questions I’ve experienced at some point in my life, but with a strength of character that was inspiring.
Card doesn’t introduce Isaac, Rebekah’s eventual husband, until halfway through the story. I did not know what I expected Isaac to be like, but I was content with Card’s portrayal. Isaac is a man of strong moral character, but he carries with him self doubt and the memory of a father willing to sacrifice him, literally, that creates a dynamic and interesting complication to the relationship between Isaac and his father, Abraham. Of course, no one knows if such personal issues really existed for these men, but Card depicts them in a believable and touching manner.
In fact, no one in this book is perfect. Every character, no matter how righteous or unrighteous, has flaws and admirable moments. In short, Card shows once more his talent for depicting the human in all of us. Rebekah and the supporting cast of heroes create their own troubles by all trying to do what they believed was the right thing. Isaac and Rebekah’s eldest twin son comes into the wild and disrespectful difficulties of his life in part because of his parents and grandfather’s conflicting parenting styles.
The biblical story of Isaac and Rebekah and their twin sons, Esau and Jacob, is well known and easily looked up. But Card gives it a depth in his speculations regarding the people involved, their hurts and triumphs, and their motivations that far surpassed my expectations. Even though I knew how the story ended, I still felt my breath quicken in worry and flipped through the last pages in the wee hours of the morning because, in Card’s story, the known events are far less important than that people involved find some way to heal their relationships and find peace.
This one is high on my recommendation list. Card also has Sarah and Rachel and Leah, both of which I’m looking forward to reading.