I have always loved the stories of the ancient prophet Lehi and his family from the Book of Mormon. I was intrigued at the idea of a novel written from the perspective of one of the daughters of Ishmael, whose family traveled with Lehi’s through the wilderness and then across the ocean to the promised land in the Americas.
If you would like to read the scriptural account of the experiences of Lehi, Ishmael and their families, please see 1 Nephi Chapters 1-5, 7, 16-18 as well as this synopsis of each person.
The book is told from the point of view of Hannah, one of the daughters of Ishmael. The story starts when she is young, and moves through much of her adulthood until the time she must make a heartbreaking, life-saving decision.
The Book of Mormon does not say much about Ishmael’s family. We do know that Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to bring his family with them so his sons, and a man named Zoram, could marry Ishmael’s daughters, and so Lehi’s daughters could marry Ishmael’s sons. Their families traveled together to the promised land, enduring much trial, but also many blessings from the Lord.
So, though we don’t know the real names of Ishmael’s sons and daughters, or the names of Lehi’s daughters, author Diane Stringam Tolley used her vivid imagination and knowledge of ancient Jewish culture to craft a beautiful story of obedience verses rebellion, and family member verses family member. Throughout the novel, there was joy, humor, hope, personal growth and faith, and also much of the opposite – sorrow, murmuring, dread, movement into the darkness, and the losing of faith.
Hannah was a great person to be the protagonist. She was faithful to the commandments, admired and loved the prophets Lehi and Nephi, was helpful and kind, saw the good in others, listened to the Spirit, and always prayed to know answers when she was confused. She was steadfast and strong, never rebelling. Because of her strength, she was asked to marry someone she did not expect, and her life from then on would be full of uncertainty and worry for her husband’s salvation, and others’.
I loved this book, and had a hard time putting it down. Though many of the details of this story of Lehi’s and Ishmael’s family crossing the wilderness were fictional, I got to thinking for the first time how the journey must have really been, how these people would have lived, and most importantly, the complexity of their characters, even those would ultimately turn away from God forever. Nobody is two-dimensional, really, and Tolley showed that expertly.
A good book helps you not just read the words on the page, not just to understand what the characters must be going through, but to feel as if you are actually there. So many times I could feel how Hannah must be feeling as she mourned for the death of a loved one, yearned for the salvation of a member of her family, or watched the grotesque rituals of a people she once called her loved ones.
I highly recommend this novel, especially for Mormons, but really, for anyone open to reading the possibilities of what could have happened to two families who eventually divided, one side remaining righteous, and the other side succumbing to the temptations and lies of the Devil.
This is the ultimate novel about good verses evil, and spirituality verses worldliness.