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The Handmaid and the Carpenter: A Novel Hardcover – November 7, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 153 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (November 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065380
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065387
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,427,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Berg's sweetly understated dramatization of the Nativity story casts Mary and Joseph as provincial teenagers who try to honor family tradition in spite of challenging circumstances. Alternating between the voices of the holy couple, Berg relates a romance that blossoms at the wedding of relatives between the 16-year-old carpenter from Nazareth and the comely 13-year-old girl originally from Sepphoris. Mary, dreamy and intractable, already entertains notions of miraculous circumstances surrounding her own birth to her barren mother, Anne. Joseph is instantly smitten and engenders the trust of both families for a betrothal, yet Mary holds back, cherishing a sense of greater destiny. Escaping a near rape by a Greek man by the river, Mary then receives the angel's message that she will bear an extraordinary son, despite never having known a man; the sadly unwed Mary must return to Joseph, who repudiates her until he, too, is visited in a dream by an angel directing him on the honorable course. With Herod's decree that everyone return to their hometowns to register for the census, Joseph and the near-term Mary set off on their arduous and momentous journey to Bethlehem. Berg handles the gospel passages with a tender reverence. (On sale Nov. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In this poetic, reflective, and intricate novel, Berg turns her perceptively observing eye away from the vagaries of contemporary relationships that form her usual subject and journeys back to the dawn of Christianity to focus on the nascent relationship of Joseph and Mary. Mary is not quite 13 when she meets Joseph, and their instant attraction is rendered with powerfully sweet simplicity, a tone that Berg maintains throughout this spare, precise gem. It is during the period of betrothal in which she and Joseph are pledged to each other before becoming man and wife that Mary is visited by the Holy Spirit and finds herself with child. Thanks to her pure faith in both God and herself, Mary is able to accept the pregnancy for the marvel that it is. Joseph's faith, however, in Mary, in God, and, ultimately, in himself, is less certain. Depicted as an intelligent, inquisitive, impassioned woman, Mary both finds and is given the strength to endure the unique responsibility bestowed upon her. Joseph is equally complex: resolute yet sensitive, devout yet unsettled, sure of his actions, if not his feelings. There is a crystalline humanity, a logical vulnerability in Berg's imaginative interpretation of these religious figures, which brings novel resplendence to a familiar story. Carol Haggas
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

Elizabeth Berg won the NEBA Award for fiction for her body of work, and was a finalist for the ABBY for Talk Before Steep. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Ladies' Home Journal, Redbook, and the New York Times Magazine. She has also taught a writing workshop at Radcliffe College. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

Customer Reviews

Berg tells the story that she imagines of the courtship and betrothal of Joseph and Mary.
Richard Cumming
This book is a quick read (as are most of Elizabeth Berg's books because you just can't put them down), and I just loved it.
Jennifer
My only two problems with this book were tha it was too short and there was no character development.
Emily Braun

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lori on November 15, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was so interesting to read. We all know the story of the birth of Jesus, and how Mary conceived him. But this book made you realize that Joseph and Mary were REAL people, with real hopes, dreams, fears, and yes, desires!

I love Elizabeth Berg, and had I not known it was by her, I might not have guessed that it was by her, and I don't mean that in a bad way, but just that the style was different from what I am used to from her. She is branching out, trying new things. I love her books and anxiously await each one. They are about real people with real struggles, not "fluff" like Danielle Steel these days. I guess it's not fair to compare authors, but we all do it!

Nice book for this time of year, especially. Never hesitate to pick up an Elizabeth Berg book. Her insights are amazing.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ellen Hanson on December 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to like this book. As an Elizabeth Berg fan, when I discovered that Berg - a poetic writer of women's fiction - actually wrote a book set in Nazareth about the birth of Jesus Christ, I eagerly ordered a copy. Although Berg admits she took liberties with the story of Jesus' birth, and she clearly was trying to portray Mary and Joseph as three dimensional, I found both her writing style and character development quite shallow here. Also, she took Mary and Jospeh places I simply didn't want to go (i.e., I cringed while reading about 16 year old Joseph masturbating, and found myself repelled by the description of 13 year old Mary as filled with sexually yearning). If it's a unique bible story you're looking for, check out Anne Rice's "Christ the Lord - Out of Egypt" instead.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Zinta Aistars on January 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I was pleased to come across an Elizabeth Berg novel in a Christian bookstore, shopping for gifts appropriate to the holiday season. Prior to spotting this novel, I had thought of Berg only as a "secular" novelist, albeit a good one, and to find this familiar name among Christian literature seemed a bonus.

The topic is, of course, as old as Christianity. How to write it new and fresh? I chose the novel as a gift for a young niece who enjoys reading and is currently in a place of spiritual seeking - and how refreshing to find such literary treasure at this season increasingly becoming known for anything but the spiritual. Would Berg succeed? I had time enough before wrapping to read the book myself, and I did so in a day, intrigued.

It is not about the child born to Mary, not nearly as much as it is the tender love story between Mary and Joseph. Woven into the well known spiritual tale was a pleasing human element: the vulnerability of love, the flush of romance, the fears and insecurities of opening a very human heart to another, along with the very understandable doubts and questioning when faced with events only a divine intervention could explain away. Berg succeeds on these fronts. The tale becomes a pleasing literary backdrop to the story we know in the gospels. Mary is the strong woman with independent spirit that we would expect her to be; Joseph is the devoted and loving husband he would have to be to stand beside her, quite human in his occasional wondering about the story he must accept if he is to accept her as his wife - his doubts are ever so human, his overcoming those doubts ever so faithful.

Berg's novel won't stand alongside some of the great Christian-themed tomes such as the "Silver Chalice" by Thomas B. Costain or "Exodus" by Leon Uris.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By N. Bartol on December 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a child, the Nativity scene always held a fascination with me. I thought that Ms. Berg has taken a story that is dear to many of us, and has given her readers a thoughtful insight on the lives of Mary and Joseph. It is beautifully written, with much details given such has the food and clothing of that time period. I love the story of Jesus's birth, but I have always wondered about Mary and Joseph, the people. I really enjoyed Ms. Berg's perspective on their lives, and I would recommend this book to readers who would like a human perspective on Mary and Joseph.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard Cumming on December 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Every year we have another tired batch of seasonal books. We'll never see another Christmas Carol. Those classic books are few and far between.

The novelist Elizabeth Berg has turned her considerable literary talents to a subject that is a departure for her. We all know the story of the Nativity. Have you ever wondered about the couple who raised Jesus as parents? Berg tells the story that she imagines of the courtship and betrothal of Joseph and Mary.

It's a delicate and marvelous depiction of two people who are rarely accorded the humanity that they surely possessed. Sure, there is comfort and joy here but there are other emotions as well; anger, jealousy, passion, and I daresay, lust. Fundamentalists beware!

Have you ever wondered if Jesus had brothers and sisters? Did it strike you as bizarre that Joseph never wondered how Mary got pregnant when she was his virginal wife? Berg addresses all these matters and so much more.

For those strict and unbending interpreters of the Bible I would advise you to read the book with a grain of tolerance. After all, it's fiction, and it is a touching and deeply spiritual story of people who were human beings (just like us) once.
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