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)
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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
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