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

3.7 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews

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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

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: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,231,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
In The Handmaid and the Carpenter, Elizabeth Berg takes her readers into the world of Mary and Joseph--thirteen and sixteen respectively, two children of Nazareth whose lives are forever changed by a baby called Jesus. In the author's note, Berg is careful to note that the Bible is poetry and, as such, is open to interpretation. The creative license that she's taken with one of the world's greatest works pays off immensely in this carefully-told, poignant tale.

The book begins with Mary and Joseph meeting one another at a wedding in Nazareth. Joseph has already begun to make a living as a carpenter and comes from a family looked as a well-off by others in their community. Mary, whose family is not nearly as favored, works with the other women of the village doing things like laundry and cooking. When Joseph chooses Mary as his betrothed, her family is honored and Mary is happy--though not nearly as pleased as she thinks she should be. She can't help but lament the loss of her youth, her freedom, and the impending sense of doom that she might be missing out on something great by becoming Joseph's wife.

One night, soon after her betrothal, an angel comes to Mary and tells her that she is favored by God and, as such, will bear his child. Startled by this revelation, and the fact that she has known no man, Mary goes on a journey determined to find purpose in her life and to figure out, once and for all, if she's really meant to be Joseph's wife and--with this startling revelation, if he will even have her.
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