By Sharon Mager, BCM/D correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md.—Valerie Farber’s historical fiction novel, “City of Refuge” paints a vivid picture of life in Old Testament Biblical days.The story follows the life of Bat-Shachar, the daughter of a respected priest, and Tzuriel, a metal smith apprentice. Their paths eventually cross when they are outcast from their villages and they must flee to Shechem, a city of refuge, as a vengeful mob tries to kill them for the accidental death of one of their family members. Tzuriel risks their lives by stopping at the tabernacle in Shiloh.
Bat-Shachar is bright and intelligent and gets frustrated when her father teaches boys the law but she is relegated to working in the house. To make matters worse, there’s a new young pompous priest in the village that Bat-Shachar’s father wants her to marry against her will. Bat-Shachar sneaks away from time to time with her Canaanite servant, Basmat, who takes her to her native land where Bat-Shachar witnesses disturbing pagan ceremonies.
Meanwhile, Tzuriel, a young man committed to God, and his friend, Yerachmiel, are apprenticing with a cruel master. They break away and work with an accomplished revered older metalworker who sends them to spy out the ways of the Philistine master ironsmiths, a life threatening assignment.
The book brings to life the everyday struggles, works and loves of ancient times. Farber masterfully weaves an incredible amount of detail into the book. As a result, readers effortlessly learn about the customs of everyday family life in and around a Levite household. Characters become real people in the readers’ minds, dealing with the fear of plagues, prejudices, ancient medicines, sacrifices, ceremonial cleansing and idolatry. After reading “City of Refuge,” Canaanite ritual and sacrifices take on a new horror.
Valerie Farber was born in Boston. She moved to Israel in 1985. She is a technical writer but enjoys fiction writing. “City of Refuge” is her first of a planned series of historical novels.