Saturday, July 30, 2016

Ben-Hur; by Carol Wallace: A Book Review

What nostalgia and warm memories this title invokes!  As a young girl when a less complicated life afforded larger chunks of time for reading, Ben-Hur was an exciting story that brought biblical times to life and closer to home in a world that knew nothing of search engines that now make knowledge of distant places so common place.  Would this new revision written by Carol Wallace,the great-great grandaughter of the original author, Lew Wallace, hold the same enchantment for me now?

My specific memories of the original book are vague so it's hard to make an authentic comparison, but supposedly much of the cumbersome descriptive prose in the original has been reworked to hold greater appeal for current day readers. The story in this version flows well and the characters are engaging.  Judah Ben-Hur has a life of adventure, starting with an accident that condemns him to a galley slave. From there he is mercifully rescued, falls into fortune and carries hunger for revenge on those who separated him from his family earlier. He encounters Jesus along the way and gradually grasps Christ's mission of peace, which is counter intuitive to Ben-Hur's military mindset. The chariot race, perhaps what the book is best remembered for, still shines, and the rivalry between Ben-Hur and his former childhood friend, now enemy, Messala, keeps the reader rooting for justice on Judah's behalf.  The story has a satisfying ending.

There were times I felt the characters were shallow and the action mild compared to more modern day fiction.  For instance, Judah marries the sensible and right woman for him, but their romance is only hinted at and their declaration of desire for one another comes rather abruptly.

Encounters with Jesus Christ are in harmony with the Bible's account of his life and character. Ben-Hur's conversion is wholehearted. The crucifixion scene portrays the agony of Jesus and those who love him. I was disappointed that the author chooses not to develop any story of the resurrection. It is assumed, but if one is unfamiliar with Christ's work of redemption, God's powerful act of rising him from the dead is sadly missing. 

The book includes an afterword that is a brief, yet detailed biography of Lew Wallace.  I enjoyed reading of his background and the gradual reception of the book in the late 1800s.  The story had to endure tests such as whether it was blasphemous, whether it was morally valuable when fiction was suspect, and whether it's Christian message would be embraced.  By 1886 it was a major bestseller.

I also found it interesting to understand how Ben-Hur's story reflects the author's life experiences. Lew Wallace had his own journey of coming to faith and the story shows his conclusive belief.  In his lifetime there were many reports of readers whose lives were changed by the book.

I read most of this book while waiting on a plane delay while traveling this summer.  It was entertaining and carried me back to simpler days, not where there are less complicated personalities or problems of life, but where inner peace is obtainable and comes from a straightforward acceptance of truth and from valuing the journey to a faith that doesn't waver no matter how the world changes. How refreshing!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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