Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time,” Part 2: Allegory, Schmallegory

In case you missed it….

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I believe any allegory or a re-telling or even a “reframing” promises the reader a more than superficial resemblance. As an inspie reader, my Default Reader Trust Mode tells me that the author of a fictionalized Bible story — even one described in such vague tones as a “reframing” — has taken on the greater responsibility to go beyond the surface to tell the whole story.

A biblical story calls its readers to enter its world, to be captivated by its characters, intrigued by its plot, and affectively engaged through suspense and complication till its final denouement. Biblical stories invite us into a world contoured by ancient conventions, yet pulsing with continuous relevance. …[A] story is a whole that conveys meaning through its totality, through the choice and placement of its parts, and through the sum of its parts.1

megillat_esther

The parts of the story can be understood only as they relate to the integrity of the whole literary structure, and, conversely, the point of the story in all of its complexity can be best understood by pondering the significance of each part.3

If I’m reading a retelling a book of the Bible, I take it as a given that the author will be faithful to the meaning and intent of that story — not just the character names and superficial plot points.

In all fairness, not every character and verse needs a corollary in a fictionalized Bible story. Other Esther-inspired novels do without Queen Vashti, and the beauty contest, and the poetic justice and the glorious irony of the scriptures, and still give good story.

For Such a Time is not “good story.”

Yes, I know that “reframing” equals “jumping off point.” But when you jump off something, there’s an implication you’re reasonably assured of a safe landing without falling on your arse.

For Such a Time shows its arse on nearly every page.

Arse is not profanity because it’s British.

I’d like to say I am confounded why author Kate Breslin chose the specific elements of the Esther story that appear in For Such a Time and ignored others. However, it’s painfully obvious (I’m using that phrase repeatedly, but argh) which elements got in the way of the story she wanted to tell. Some are of the “huh?” variety, while others are downright “WTF???” egregious.

Acronyms do not count as actual profanity. I checked.

In my one week of research, I found dozens of books and articles on the story of Esther, from Christian exegetic textual analysis to Talmudic and rabbinic commentaries to YA novels to preschool coloring books.

Also, Joan Collins movies. Totally not kidding.

Esther and the King, 1960

If I was an inspie author, I would bury myself in these sources and wallow in them. I would absorb everything and pick it apart and put it back together again to figure out how best to relate God’s word to readers looking for a good story.

[NOTE: I would wallow in the Joan Collins movie, but I’d probably avoid actually absorbing anything.]

I honestly believe that Breslin — and her editors — read none of the same non-fiction titles I did. I seriously doubt the editors of the book consulted even one of the eleventy-five Bible study guides available from their own publishing house.

Eleventy-five is hyperbole, not snark.

Allegory, Schmallegory

Esther is one of only two women with a book of the Bible named after her. That’s why so many modern authors look to her as inspiration for their inspirational fiction.

And they do that for damn good reason.

Remarkable changes take place in the heart of this once young, dependent orphan who finally becomes a confident, assertive, and competent leader. In the final chapters, she speaks in imperatives and authorizes edicts.1

Boldness and faithfulness in a crisis. Esther had to make a stand in spite of the potential consequences. She had to decide whether to step forward in a crisis or shrink back from it.2

Ignoring long-standing protocol and refusing to be intimidated by the thought of being put to death in doing so, she courageously stepped into the king’s private “war room,” expressed her concern for her people (and in doing so, revealed to him for the first time that she, too, was Jewish), exposed the deceptive wickedness of Haman’s heart, and only hours later, pled that the decree might somehow be altered—or, at least, defended against. All these things occurred in a relatively brief period of time, but they resulted in a remarkable turning point, not only in the colorful story of Esther but in the dramatic history of the Jews. The results? Everything changed.4

Esther Accuses Haman, Doré's English Bible, 1866

This choice of a female hero serves an important function in the story. Women were, in the world of the Persian diaspora, as in many other cultures, essentially powerless and marginalized members of society. Even if they belonged to the dominant culture, they could not simply reach out and grasp power, as a man could; whatever power they could obtain was earned through the manipulation of the public holders of power, men. In this sense the exiled Jew could identify with the woman: he or she too was essentially powerless and marginalized, and power could be obtained only through one’s wits and talents. But, as the actions of Esther demonstrate, this can be done. By astutely using her beauty, charm, and political intelligence, and by taking one well-placed risk, Esther saves her people, brings about the downfall of their enemy, and elevates her kinsman to the highest position in the kingdom. Esther becomes the model for the Jew living in exile.5

The Biblical Esther finds strength and courage from her faith, and becomes a dynamic leader. Esther struggles with her choices, both past and future, but she ultimately chooses to do the right thing — no matter the cost to herself — because that’s where God has directed her.

Breslin’s version of Esther waffles and whines and goes stupid at a glimpse of broad uniformed shoulders.* Stella momentarily considers the effects of her choices on her fellow Jews, but she winds up getting distracted those broad shoulders* every single time.

Let’s review that again: Breslin’s Stella/Hadassah — a character named for and supposedly based on a Biblical heroine celebrated by Jews every year for thousands of years — “reframes” her thoughts and reactions and choices by how they might affect her relationship with a career Nazi.

Stella watched him go, her despair at Morty’s situation warring with her growing attraction toward the man responsible. Had God planned this new anguish to replace the physical torment she’d suffered at Dachau? ~ page 112, Kindle location 1557

Whatever reasons had brought him to be in this place, in this time, he had no more choice in the matter of conscience than she did. And, it seemed, less hope of any deliverance. ~ page 144, Kindle location 1987 [immediately after she’s typed the first Auschwitz deportation list]

The beating she’d endured at Dachau before they dragged her off to the shooting pit had nearly killed her. Was she supposed to simply forget that? Or what they had done to her people? Should she pray for them while they continued to send death trains to Auschwitz like so much stock being shipped to the slaughterhouse? And what about the colonel? Should she pray for him, as well? But her anger died abruptly, seized by a hailstorm of emotions she wasn’t ready to face. He was unlike anyone she’d ever known: his warm sense of humor, the way he smiled at her. His kiss . . . ~ page 156, Kindle location 2138

“Stella, I don’t wish to fight with you,” he said in a tired voice. “Finish eating, and just for a little while, we’ll have no more talk about Jews or Nazis or wars. All right?” His appealing look melted her obstinacy. ~ page 157, Kindle location 1266

She knew that death awaited the Jews at the station outside the ghetto. Would Joseph one day be forced to board that train? Stella reached to brush back his silken curls. Restless, he turned his head, revealing the angry scar where his ear had been. Brutality is the Nazis’ wheel, crushing everything in its path. Was that what Aric tried to explain to her? Had the monsters become victims to their own destruction—killing with such ease and abandon that now, like cannibals, they preyed on each other? That meant no one was safe. Not even Aric. ~ page 168, Kindle location 2312

Despite his accurate logic, he could have left Morty to his tormentors in the Kleine Festung a few more days. No doubt untold others had died in that place without the commandant of the camp giving the slightest notice. Yet her uncle had been spared because Aric was a fair man, and though he denied it, a compassionate one, as well. And he had done it for her. ~ page 228, Kindle location 3106

“Oh, but I do. You bargained for this all along, didn’t you? Using your beauty, your charm, to get what you wanted from me. For those Jews.” His face moved so close that their lips nearly joined, but anger—not desire—burned in his eyes. “You were even willing to bed the general for one of them, weren’t you?” “Would that have been worse than your dying?” She searched his harsh features for some sign of the man she’d fallen in love with.  ~ page 298, Kindle location 4029

If she didn’t, they would all die. She felt cornered; self-loathing washed over her. Why hadn’t she been shot that day in Dachau instead of Anna? Why did God spare her . . . only to make her an accomplice to murder? Tell me, Lord. I promise to listen. Hadassah cast a desperate glance at the Bible on the table beside her. The book had fallen open to a page, marked by the photograph of Aric. ~ page 310, Kindle location 4196

“But I’d rather risk my life and what’s left of my soul with these people than do nothing and prolong a miserable existence.” Hadassah squeezed his hand, overjoyed by his change of heart. She was also frightened by the realization he would be more likely to die than those he tried to save. She gripped the Bible she still held, hoping to gain strength. Hours ago she’d put herself into God’s hands; she’d accepted the possibility of her own death at Auschwitz for her people—but not Aric’s. Please, Lord, don’t let me lose him. Not now . . . ~ page 342, Kindle location 4628

Time and again throughout the novel, Breslin sets up her heroine in situations like these, placing her literally and symbolically between the Jews in the concentration camp and the officer in charge of transporting them to Auschwitz. Breslin gives Stella occasional twinges of…something…regarding her fellow Jews, then deliberately shifts the focus back to the “Christian” Nazi. Every. Single. Time.

Wealth, prestige, and personal security could never satisfy Esther so long as her people were still in danger. To her, the most important thing in life was not her comfort but their deliverance, and she couldn’t rest until the matter was settled. …It was her interceding at the throne that saved the people of Israel from slaughter. She was asking nothing for herself, except that the king save her people and deliver her from the heavy burden on her heart.6 [emphasis mine]

Breslin’s Stella is NOT a Biblical Esther. At all. Period.

I do not understand why an author would choose to base a story on someone whose been a heroine for MILLENNIA and IGNORE the actual REASONS she’s A HEROINE AND OMG I’M ALL-CAPSING AGAIN.

*sits on hands*

Wasting the good stuff

AND.  What a complete and utter waste of the true dramatic moments in the Book of Esther.

…this is Esther’s moment in history, the reason she had to go through the dehumanizing process to become royalty five years earlier. Will she seize the opportunity? 2 

NO. NO SHE WON’T.

Esther, Chapter 4:

[12] When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, [13] he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. [14] For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther Denouncing Haman - Ernest Norman, 1886

[15] Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: [16] “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

For Such a Time:

Never happens. NEVER HAPPENS. ::headdesk::

esther_haman_1

“Oh, wait – you say you’re not a Real Nazi? Let’s kiss and ignore the crematorium next door.”

This is Esther reclaiming her heritage. She’s been in the palace for over a year, being pampered and beautified and carried on a litter by muscular eunuchs and lounging on silky pillows and whatnot. Mordecai’s three simple sentences shock her out of her complacency.

Verse 14 contains one of the most memorable lines in the story of Esther. At the height of this intense interchange, Mordecai persuades Esther with words of hope and threat. The hope is found in an unexplained assurance that relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place. Esther must decide whether or not she will accept her appointed role in their deliverance..1

God gave Esther the opportunity to surrender herself and serve Him and His people, and she seized the opportunity. …Queen Esther bravely interceded for her people.6

Nothing. Nil. Nada.

Esther, Chapter 7:

[3] Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. [4] For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated…..”

[5] King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

Esther by N.C. Wyeth

[6] Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

For Such a Time:

Aric’s fury gave way to exhaustion; he felt as though someone had bludgeoned him. He stared at her — she who had been his hope, his future. “Get dressed, Sarah.”

“Not Sarah.” She rose off the bed, her large eyes blazing blue fire at him. “Hadassah. Is that Jewish enough for you?”

Seizing the opportunity = “Is that Jewish enough for you?” Really? That’s what you’re going with?

These famous verses from the Book of Esther are more than just throwaway catchphrases. Those monumental words are in the Bible for a very specific reason. They are pivotal moments of faith showing us Esther choosing her path and giving her future over to God.

That’s what the story of Esther is all about. We get none of that in the novel.

Nada. Naught. Nil. Zero.

I am using a lot of italics for dramatic effect because aaaarrrgggghhh why would an author leave that out of a story of Esther???? aaaarrrgggghhh.

Esther-Chapter-1-1

“Ist thise naught Jewishe enuf forst thou?”

Breslin’s Stella never “chooses” anything. In deflecting a direct question, she’s showing her continued shame at being a Jew. Breslin’s Stella gives her future over to an SS officer who two chapters earlier called the Jews “nothing but a nuisances” and a waste of Nazi resources.

When you have a story that compelling and a plot that intriguing, revolving around a woman that dynamic, you can’t miss! Furthermore, you who have decided to read of her exploits will quickly discover what hidden treasures we have in this biblical character most folks have never stopped long enough to appreciate. Trust me on this one: You’re going to fall in love with Esther. Then you’re going to wonder how you could have lived so long without realizing what a magnificent realistic and balanced message she models, especially in this day of wild fantasies and radical extremes.4

Oh, the burning, itching irony. “Wild fantasies and radical extremes,” indeed. There is nothing “inspirational” about Breslin’s version of Esther. Blech.

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1 Leslie C. Allen and Timothy S. Laniak, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Baker Books, 2012.

2 A Walk Thru the Book of Esther: Courage in the Face of Crisis, Bake Books, 2010.

3 Karen H. Jobes, Esther, Zondervan, 2011.

4 Charles R. Swindoll, Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity, Thomas Nelson, 1997.

5 Sidnie Ann White Crawrod, Esther: Bible, Jewish Women’s Archive

6 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Ruth & Esther): Doing God’s Will Whatever the Cost, David C. Cook, 2010.

7 The Holy Bible – New International Version

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*Did you catch the part about the broad shoulders? The Nazi hero has broad shoulders. Just wanted to make that clear in case you were curious about that whole “attracted to a Nazi” thing. I think Jesus had Mighty Shoulders of Broadness too.

Speaking of Jesus and His Mighty Shoulders of Broadness, someone should write a book “reframing” Jesus as an MMA fighter. I would totally read that. Or wait – even better! — wait for it — Saul as a scarred and bitter MMA fighter from the Evil Jew Motorcycle Gang That Runs Illegal Underground MMA Fight Clubs and his former-arch-rival-but-soon-to-be-trainer Jesus says “Hey, if you want to be a Real Fighter for God™ you should switch sides and change your name and ignore all that Jew stuff and then you can totally get as many tattoos as you want because that will prove the whole Not Jewish thing even though everyone in the locker room already knows about the circumcision thing.”

Please note that I said someone else should write this. There are many, many reasons I am not a fiction writer. My brain at work is not a pretty sight.

This, my friends, is what OH HONEY NO friends are for. Kate Breslin, please find yourself one.

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3 thoughts on “Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time,” Part 2: Allegory, Schmallegory

  1. Wonderful analysis. And you simply MUST watch “Esther and the King”, because a) Queen Vashti does a strip-tease in front of Ahasuerus and b) Joan Collins attempts to be a Simple Jewish Girl. Oh, and Vashti has an affair with Haman, which for some reason got left out of the Bible…

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