Summary and book reviews of The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace

The Book of Heaven

By Patricia Storace

The Book of Heaven
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2014,
    384 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Book Summary

From the author of the classic travel memoir Dinner with Persephone: Travels in Greece, a stunningly original novel of heartrending lyricism about four women who invite us to enter into a new and powerful imagination of the divine: what if "a woman's point of view" were also God's?

In the prologue, Eve speaks about what we are told happened in the Garden of Eden, a story she hardly recognizes. She tells her version of events, revealing to us that the constellations we see in heaven conceal other heavens we have never seen or allowed ourselves to see. She reveals four of these hidden constellations and describes how they came to be. Each of the four subsequent chapters is the story of one of these new zodiacs, teaching us how to look at these constellations central to women - a knife, a cauldron for cooking, a paradise garden, a pair of lovers embracing - and how to know the women whose stories they tell: a metamorphosis of Sarah, Abraham's wife; an invented polytheist cook; Job's wife; and the queen of Sheba. Patricia Storace brilliantly and radically reimagines the worlds of these women, freeing them from the old tales in which they were trapped, putting them in the foreground of their stories and of the Old Testament itself.

Prologue:
A View from Another Heaven

We on earth navigate by the stars, so it is no wonder we have gone so far off course—since we have never seen more than a fragment of Heaven. Our knowledge of Hell is more detailed, and at least of certain regions, even thorough; we have spent so much more of our time and resources on the exploration of Hell. Hell is a much easier object of study; though it has endless variations, its nature is repetitive and unchanging. The stories of the damned told there all end the same way.

Heaven, by contrast, is infinite in a different way, endlessly reconceiving itself as the ocean does. In Heaven, the equinoxes shift; even the pole stars change places, changing what we trust and rely on, believe, what we are sure we know. You look and see, as you expect to, Polaris, now the North Star, the certainty of Heaven; but the brilliant Thuban, five thousand years ago, was once the pole star. At the time the pyramids were built, Thuban was the star that ...

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Reviews

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I am not a biblical scholar, nor do I think it's necessary to be one to enjoy The Book of Heaven. As with any magical fiction, Storace takes liberal poetic license with these historical women's stories. The original tales were written by men; told from their perspective. Storace has clearly has pondered these women's lives and experiences and has arrived at these different allegories; told from their perspectives. As a woman it is not all that difficult for me to give myself - and my disbelief - over to the author and identify with her point of view. It would be interesting to get a male perspective. But beyond gender, each story offers the opportunity to step beyond current beliefs into another realm of reality.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Acclaimed poet and memoirist Storace steps onto the terrain of myth, creating a feminist cosmology... Poetic, elusive, and thought provoking.

Booklist

Storace's imaginative look into the nature of eternity, memory, and the divine leaves readers with much to contemplate. A stunningly poetic and mythological novel.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Storace's striking feminist mythopoeic work offers provocative alternatives in beautifully crafted prose.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Mystical, lyrical, fascinating . . . A fine author can create stories that open one's mind to alternative views of entrenched archetypes. In a lyrical, feministic, fictional version of Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, this is a marvelous, thought-provoking book for readers who enjoy mythologies which reach down into one's soul. Highly recommended.

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The Constellations

Photograph of Orion as seen by the naked eye (lines added) by Till CrednerThere are currently eighty-eight officially recognized and named constellations. According to one astronomy website there are, "14 men and women, 9 birds, two insects, 19 land animals, 10 water creatures, two centaurs, one head of hair, a serpent, a dragon, a flying horse, a river and 29 inanimate objects." (Some constellations include more than one creature which is why there are 90 creatures but only 88 constellations.) Included among them are the familiar constellations: Orion, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia and the signs of the Zodiac. But over the millennia and across cultures there have been hundreds, probably thousands, more, depending on who was connecting the heavenly dots and why. Assigning names and significance to the stars ...

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