Book Review: Passing By Samaria
Publication Date: Jan 01, 2001
Format: Hardcover, 382 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Parent Company: Bertelsmann
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Book Reviewed by Paige Turner
In the early days of the church, when doing the Lord's work, Christians tried to
pass by the town of Samaria, tried to evade visiting this unpleasant city where
the people were hostile, and did not share their values. Today many people of
good will continue to seek easy battles and try to avoid those that are
challenging. In her debut novel, Passing By Samaria, author Sharon Ewell Foster
presents readers with refreshing perspectives on the need to face up to
difficult challenges, and on the depths of forgiveness.
In 1919, Alena, a young black girl on the cusp of womanhood from a nurturing, God-fearing Mississippi home, witnesses a horrifying tragedy and its subsequent cover up. Her father kindly tries to explain how the white community is hamstrung by old patterns of denial:
"[Whites] ain't willing to sacrifice they friendship or position or family relationships for some black skinned boy’they tell themselves that he must a brought it on himself. Cause they would feel guilty; they would have to do something if they believed the young man was innocent’ If we point at the ones we know did it, then they relatives, they friends, and even the ones that done like them is gonna stand up with them.. The good folks will act like we did something wrong for bringing [the lynching] up."
To allow Alena to heal from the trauma her parents send her to live in Chicago at her aunt's inner city mission. Filled of bitterness and suspicion she lashes out at everyone she meets in her new town. But the Chicago riots provide a wake up call by impressing her with the losses and hurts of others.
The most meaningful portions of Passing By Samaria are concerned with the interior thinking of Miranda, the loving wife of a bigoted small town sheriff. She struggles against her love for her husband to live up to her Christian ideals, and to be the voice of conscience in the midst of overwhelming racial ugliness and hate. Samaria travels where few books have and provides a fascinating look at the complexity of these negative feelings, and the conflict Miranda experiences from loving her hateful and destructive husband.
" ’ if [her grandchildren] asked her, maybe she would tell them that there was something broken in [her husband] that she could not fix. Could not save. Could not rescue. Maybe she would cry and say that maybe she had not tried hard enough, had been too afraid to try. "
Passing By Samaria frequently shifts locations and points of view. Indeed Passing By Samaria could be subdivided and published as several different novels: A country vs. big city tale; a love story romance; a race relations saga; a religious and inspirational book about the power of redemption, personal growth and interpersonal relations; a historical drama; or a tale of murder and revenge. Tackling this grand sweep of genres indicates Foster's earnestness and ambition, but would have made a better book if only one or two areas had been addressed.
Samaria most fertile audiences will include teenaged, Christian, black women. While themes of forgiveness and redemption are universal to all people it is hard to imagine men, adults, non-African Americans and non-Christians being interested in this tale. There is too much narrative about a young woman's feelings about first of being noticed, getting attention, conducting herself as a lady, the feel of a man's hand guiding her back, and other "fresh out of the cocoon" observations, that will leave male readers unimpressed.
Interestingly Samaria's best feature is its art direction. The cover is one of the most beautiful ever seen, with lavish and expensive production values including: beautiful custom typeface, color reproduction, raised letters, and ultra violet coating. This excellent graphic support elevates the book and promises a delicious read, enticing readers to enter this world with its soft focus cover photo, period clothing, bucolic setting with golden sunshine, and attractive model.
Passing By Samaria is sincere, ambitious and deeply felt. Readers can look forward to Sharon Ewell Foster's continued maturation as a writer. A book so heavily based in spiritually the way most popular books are drenched in sex deserves a place in readers' consciousness. Samaria deserves consideration for its intended demographic target, and would make an excellent Christmas gift for the young women in your life.