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I have joined a book club. It's our Church ladies' book club, which was inaugurated last year, and the idea is that we all read a book then meet up to discuss it after a few weeks. Unfortunately I've not managed to make any of the meetings yet, but I have read all of the books! So in attempt to make some penance I thought I'd write down my thoughts about them, so that at least I can prove I've been paying attention :)
Outside of the book club, 'Redeeming Love' by Francine Rivers is NOT the sort of book I would normally pick up, at least on appearance. It falls, at least by the title and the cover art neatly into the 'romantic fiction' bracket, and I have this image of a late middle-age/ early old-age lady in a rocking chair, knitting to one side, etc etc, which just isn't me at all... However, when book number four for the club arrived a couple of weeks ago, I read the blurb on the back, and was immediately drawn to the storyline. The story is loosely based on the Biblical story of the prophet Hosea, who was told by God to marry a prostitute. This wasn't in an effort to get her to reform, it was more in the way of a visual aid to the people of Israel, so that Hosea could use the very real illustration of his own home life to show the people what God thought of their desertion of Him. I always found this one tough to comprehend.
With this in mind, I was intrigued to see how Rivers' story, set in the era of the American gold rush, of a man told by God that he was to marry a prostitute, would pan out (pun unintentional).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Francine Rivers was a successful romantic fiction writer by the time she found the Christian faith in 1986. She took some time out to re-evaluate her life & career, then as a result of a Bible study on the book of Hosea, she found the subject of her next book. She didn't want just to set the story in a slightly more modern setting, but to use it to express her own struggles with coming to faith, and her gratitude for the way that she felt God had been guiding her all of her life without her knowing it. She has gone on to write many other books, but this, her first as a Christian writer, has become a classic in that genre and very much loved.
The first few pages are dedicated to the brief and tragic early history of Sarah, the story's main character. Here there is a heartbreaking depiction of a woman's dedication to her lover, a married, rich businessman who has given her a daughter that he would have rather she'd disposed of. Very soon after the characters are introduced, he abandons them both to a life of poverty, which eventually results in the nine year old girl being sold to an evil brothel owner called Duke after the mother's death. This man is to haunt her for many years to come, not surprising since he starts to 'train' her as soon as she arrives...
The narrative then jumps forward to an adult Sarah, now known by everyone as Angel, a high class prostitute, though no more in control of her situation despite escaping from her first 'owner'. But things are to change radically in her life. Michael Hosea sees her walk by, and an inner voice speaks to him as he is stunned by her beauty, but also her solemn and tragic air. He hears God tell him that this is the woman he wants him to marry. This is where the story proper begins.
I said that the Biblical story of Hosea had always been tough for me to comprehend. This is a pretty effective shot at getting inside the heads of the two halves of this odd couple. When Angel is taken away from her opulent, Gold-rush era town bordello, and introduced to Michael's homestead and comparatively tiny stone dwelling as her new home, the struggle begins. You get to know Michael as a man driven by wanting to please God, but is also often stumped and dismayed by the tough job he's been given in effectively rehabilitating Angel, a woman that he very quickly grows to love very deeply, but who repeatedly breaks his heart and stretches his patience to breaking point. Angel, on the other hand, we come to understand as a fragile and very deeply damaged woman who is afraid to trust anyone, and more than anything else scared to death of loving anyone, having seen how it destroyed her mother. On top of that, there are the years of abuse, the loss of any significance in sex besides pleasing a customer, and her own lack of self-worth. What strikes me the most is the way that the author deals with these things - Michael's battle to maintain his patience with her that slowly brings positive results; her gradual acceptance that he means her no harm and may actually mean to do her good. The insight into the inner workings of these people's minds is so vivid and sympathetic that I found it very hard to stop turning the pages, and it pretty much took over my mind for the few days that it took to read in my spare (and sometimes not so spare!) time. Their relationship is a roller-coaster, but it does have an end destination, which I won't give away, but you are kept wondering almost to the end whether things will work out for them or not.
I'm very glad that I've been enabled to meet these characters. I have found that this book seems to work on several different levels. You could just read it as Romantic Fiction, but it could also be almost be used as an instruction manual for dealing patiently with someone who is having horrendous problems. Despite it being a work of fiction, the ways that the author portrays Michael and others dealing with Angel, are mostly common-sense, although the situation is something that the majority of people would run a mile from. It shows that it would take a great deal of strength of character and love to keep up. You could however, as the author I think intends, read it as a journey of faith, with Michael's striving with Angel as an allegory of God's striving with someone who He wants to find faith in Him, which is the author's personal reason given for the writing of the book.
"Redeeming Love" by Francine Rivers is a powerful, fresh re-telling of Hosea, a small prophetic book in the Old Testament. Rivers passionately and originally modernizes the story of Hosea's wife, Gomer, and her unfaithfulness to him, which is a clear depiction of the relationship between God and Israel. In this gripping, "unputdownable" novel, Rivers brings to life the character of Angel - a young woman in 19th Century America thrown into prostitution at an early age as a result of a chain of unfortunate events.
Angel, born and raised originally as Sarah, becomes embittered through her lot in life, and she soon comes to expect litte else. Unwanted and rejected by her own father, let down by her mother and sold to a dominant and loathesome man at the age of eight, Sarah endures great sufferings that no child should have to encounter and abruptly and painfully learns the "God's truth about men". Thankfully, we're not made to actually lift the words from the page with our own eyes, the travesty is only alluded to, although this is certainly distressing enough.
A few years later, we see Angel as a young prostitute in California - the best in her field. She's beautiful, she's alluring, she's the most expensive. It keeps her alive, well dressed and well fed. But it's all she knows. It's all she's good at. She can't make room for the possibility that there could be more to life. It was about survival, and she was doing just fine. Until Michael Hosea comes along. A godly, unmarried man, Michael Hosea sees Angel on one of her constitutionals with her bodyguard and is told by God that she's the woman he's meant to marry. Reluctantly, but faithfully, Michael Hosea eventually spends all his gold dust just to be able to talk to Angel, to persuade her to come away with him and marry him.
In a brilliant, heart-wrenching narrative, Rivers goes on to delve into the complex relationship between Michael and Angel. As a reader, you get dragged into every element of the story, you relate to Angel's pain, you sympathise with Michael's impatience and you hope, with all your heart, that there will be a happy ending.
A rollercoatser of twists and turns, "Redeeming Love" will shock you, depress you, encourage you, challenge you and tug on your romantic heartstrings. Ultimately, it all boils down to God's workings within Angel and using Michael to guide her to Him. Her journey is a beautiful mixture of sadness, hope and redemption. A must-read for all!