Biblical · Full Reviews

Full Review, In the Field of Grace

I really had no intention of reading another Tessa Afshar book so soon! Back in January I reviewed Land of Silence; besides that, I have an ever-growing pile of works by unknown (to me) authors begging to be given a little time. But In the Field of Grace popped up in the audio book section of the library, and I gave in. I haven’t had a good audio book in a while… I can listen with my phone using free services like Hoopla, but lately I’ve been struggling to keep my phone charged. For that reason alone I tend to prefer audio books on CD rather than digital format. Someday I’ll get around to buying a charging cable for my car…

In the Field of Grace, ©2014 by Tessa Afshar, Moody Publishers.

In the Field of Grace is a retelling of the story of Ruth (from the Biblical book of the same name) with imagined details filling in the areas of her life we don’t know from Scripture. Afshar conjectures what Ruth’s Moabite backstory may have been like; considers her daily life in Israel; explores her relationship with Naomi.

The difficulty in writing this book, in my mind, is that I think most Christian women have read and heard the Old Testament passage preached so many times that they have already imagined for themselves many of the unknown particulars of the account. Challenging those interpretations makes it difficult for them to feel as if this could be how it “really happened.”

Afshar does a wonderful job, as usual, of painting with words a vivid world, but somehow it felt disconnected from the Biblical account to me. Maybe it’s the aforementioned problem (though I tried to have an open mind.) Mostly, however, I thought the romance between Ruth and Boaz was exaggerated and modernized in a way that somewhat cheapened the known Biblical narrative (which I’m sure was not Afshar’s intent). By way of example, in this fictionalization Boaz is instantly enamored with Ruth’s beauty upon first sight. Her eyes, her height… I actually rolled my eyes when he notices her long slender fingers (which are covered in dirt from working in the fields all day but still manage to be alluring!) Despite Afshar’s efforts to show that Boaz is a Godly man of character, the over-romanticizing detracted from Boaz’s words of blessing a few minutes later. This is because it felt as if he only showed her kindness, in large part, because she was so attractive to him. Would the wealthy landowner have shown the same generosity if she had not been beautiful, or was just too dirty, tired, and gaunt for him to notice her lovely features? Something in my gut tells me the real Boaz would have.

Ruth’s life also takes on a more precarious nature . She is nearly killed by thieves; struck down with heat stroke in the fields; is burned and suffers from smoke inhalation after beating back a fire in Boaz’s field alone; and… well, I’d better stop before I give away crucial spoilers. I wouldn’t mind the suspense if I wasn’t left wondering if most of the excitement was set up just so Boaz would have a couple opportunities to carry Ruth home in his arms, trembling with concern and hidden ardor.

But wait! Despite some of the issues I take with the book, I really don’t mean this to be a scathing review. I’m rating this 3 stars–lower than Land of Silence or Bread of Angels–but I wouldn’t say it’s devoid of merit. In keeping with Afshar’s signature style, there are plenty of moments of spiritual reflection throughout the book that are thoughtful and encouraging, so if you’ve enjoyed her other titles you will find similar here. I also particularly liked Afshar’s rendering of Ruth’s background in Moab as well as her relationship with Naomi.

In closing, have you read any other books based on the life of Ruth? Also, what are your favorite verses from the Biblical account?