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Nov 3, 2013

The Secret Magdalene by Ki Longfellow

Very emotive, provocative and worthy of my five stars
The Secret Magdalene by Ki Longfellow
Historical Fiction/Biblical
Crown Publishers orig.2005, edition shown is 2007 hc edition
Personally bought copy
Burton Book Review Rating: 5 stars

Raised like sisters, Mariamne and Salome are indulged with riches, position, and learning-a rare thing for females in Jerusalem. But Mariamne has a further gift: an illness has left her with visions; she has the power of prophecy. It is her prophesying that drives the two girls to flee to Egypt, where they study philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy in the Great Library of Alexandria.
After seven years they return to a Judaea where many now believe John the Baptizer is the messiah. Salome too begins to believe, but Mariamne, now called Magdalene, is drawn to his cousin, Yeshu’a, a man touched by the divine in the same way she was during her days of illness. Together they speak of sharing their direct experience of God; but Yeshu’a unexpectedly gains a reputation as a healer, and as the ill and the troubled flock to him, he and Magdalene are forced to make a terrible decision.This radical retelling of the greatest story ever told brings Mary Magdalene to life-not as a prostitute or demon-possessed-but as an educated woman who was truly the “apostle to the apostles.”

Some of the biblically themed reads I've come across closely follow the traditions of the bible and religious teachings while simply fleshing out the details with an author's creative finesse, but this story of Mary is unlike any I have ever read. What I expected was a story of Mary Magdalene and perhaps some "shocking" affair between she and Jesus, but again this was so much more than that. The author does not set out to preach, but lets her characters of Yehoshua and Mariamne encounter philosophical themes featuring God and the ultimate truth, and the reader sits back and contemplates these heavy things throughout the story.

The story started off swiftly as Mariamne and young friend Salome are passed along the learned sects of these ancient times, and many factions and types of beliefs are examined and left open to interpretation. We follow the girls' relationship with each other and it is always a major theme so that Mariamne is never seen as too remote to the reader, as she has real feelings and these are palpable.

Although eventually a story arc that follows Mary and Jesus, called Yeshu, there were tons of characters, and most of them I could correlate to the biblical teachings even if the names weren't exact matches. With each new discovery I could begin to follow the golden threads along the tapestry that the author was weaving. It was not an easy path, it required deep thought and therefore it took me over two weeks to get through the 430 pages, but it was worthwhile for the paths down theology and tragedy which were amazingly constructed.

The prose was fantastic. It spoke volumes with its words that expressed humanity and all its faults and glories. I admit to getting a little perturbed when I wasn't getting through the text swiftly, but it required my full attention. In the end, perhaps it was a better received novelization for myself as I am incredibly interested in all the biblical events and I yearn for more. This gives me more, and demands me to re-read it. Though geared for those who seek truth and clarity, the text does not lean towards any specific religion, but it certainly would require the reader to have a respect for God in order to enjoy this work of art.