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.
A View from Another Heaven
We on earth navigate by the stars, so it is no wonder we have gone so far off coursesince 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 ...
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).
Full Review (1261 words).
There 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 ...
If you liked The Book of Heaven, try these:
The stories in A Better Angel describe the terrain of human sufferingillness, regret, mourning, sympathyin the most unusual of ways - by turns heartbreaking, magical, and darkly comic.
In the Bible, Dinah's life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. In The Red Tent Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history to create an intimate, immediate connection.
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