Published by Bonneville Books, 189 pages, $14.95
Reviewed by Jennie Hansen
One of the most intriguing books in the Old Testament is the Book of Ruth. Instead of a litany of historical events, a sermon, or instruction, it is a story–a piece of literature, complete with a beginning, middle, and an ending. It has characters and a plot. Best of all, it is one of the few scriptural instances where women play the key roles. It is also a story that has been rewritten over and over by novelists. Lee Ann Setzer makes no claim to having written the Book of Ruth, but only a Book of Ruth. If the reader is a fan of “Ruth” books, as I am, he/she will enjoy this one. And if not a fan, he/she will still enjoy a well-written tale.
The story of Ruth is familiar to most readers as the story of a woman who married one of the two sons of a couple who fled from Bethlehem to Moab in a time of famine. The story skips rapidly over the next ten years to a time when the mother-in-law, Naomi and her two daughters-in-law are widows and Naomi determines to go back to her homeland. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their families and one does so, but the other, Ruth, pleads to stay with Naomi, vowing that the Israelite people and God will be her people and god. Ruth assumes a widow’s right to glean after the harvesters and falls under the protection of her deceased husband and father-in-law’s kinsman, Boaz. In obedience to Naomi’s instruction Ruth visits Boaz’s resting place on the threshing floor late at night. Here some readers find a seduction scene, but others find a seduction out of character for these two honorable people, but whatever transpired between them that night, their meeting resulted in a kind of betrothal which Boaz acted on quickly by forcing the one kinsman with a closer right to claim the young widow to act one way or the other. When the kinsman withdrew his right to claim Ruth, Boaz married her and together they produced a son. From this union came the royal house of Israel.
Fictionalizing any event from scripture is always risky. There are always those who will object to a particular scriptural interpretation. With this story, it seems most novelists paint the poor kinsman who declines to buy Elimelech’s field and become Ruth’s husband as a villain and Setzer is no exception. There is no scriptural basis for depicting the kinsman in this manner, but it does enliven the story. The scriptures do not mention the Moabite gods Chemosh or his consort Astarte, but most fictional books and movies do, whether it is Ruth narrowly escaping becoming a child sacrifice, or as Setzer has done in placing a threat over Ruth’s head of being sold to the Chemosh temple to become a harlot. Though Setzer has taken many of the usual liberties with the story, she still maintains Ruth’s character, keeping her chaste, obedient, and the embodiment of loyalty to the God and people she chose.
Setzer has researched the time period and culture of both the Moabites and the Israelites to give her story authenticity. It is a fascinating story, well worth reading, for those reasons alone. However, she weaves in a story of a young girl’s growing faith and her journey from a frightened, insecure child to a respected, mature woman.
A long time ago as a twelve-year-old girl I read a book called Ruth (I have no idea who wrote it.) which left me with a love for this particular story. Not only did it leave me filled with admiration for Ruth, but Boaz became a romantic hero in my heart. Sister Setzer’s Boaz, though a fine, honorable man who fulfills her Ruth’s needs, is not the Boaz I fell in love with so long ago. That Boaz was the embodiment of the romantic hero; Setzer’s portly farmer, Boaz is a good man, but not the sort that makes a young girl’s heart beat faster.
There are a few awkward sentences in Gathered that had me re-reading a paragraph or two in order to make sense of them, but overall, the book is well-written and holds the reader’s interest. Descriptions are realistic and leave the reader almost tasting the dust of the travelers’ caravan and the chaff of the harvested barley. Gathered, a Novel of Ruth is one of those books I’m glad I read.