As per usual, it has been a busy time, and I haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like to. But among the few books that I have managed to finish lately is one that still has me thinking: Michal Lemberger’s After Abel and Other Stories (Prospect Park Books).
I’d been looking forward to this book of short stories for months, ever since I read the piece titled “Lot’s Wife” in Lilith magazine. Shortly thereafter, I enrolled in a Jewish-writing class myself that shared some parallels with Lemberger’s project in its approach.
So what is Lemberger’s project? In a recent post for the Jewish Book Council’s blog, she explained:
“We are all the heroes of the stories of our own lives, but the women of the Bible aren’t given the chance to play those roles. (That’s even true of some of the women—like Yael or Hagar—who do get to play active roles; their stories often advance the interests of others.) The questions that my book, After Abel, attempts to answer are: what are their stories? How would they think? What would they say if we gave them a chance to speak? What would be important to them—would it be the same as what the men value? Or would there be a shadow world, one that exists next to the officially sanctioned account, in which the details of inheritance or war don’t preoccupy their minds, but would instead be filled with the smell of food, the feel of a newborn’s skin, and the close ties of family and friendship that hold communities together?”
Some of the protagonists in this book—like Eve, or Hagar, or Miriam, or Lot’s Wife—are personages I’d at least thought about before, although I had certainly never thought about them in the contexts that Lemberger has created. But (and maybe this has something to do with the fact that I sense myself deficient in my Jewish education) I’m perhaps especially grateful for the stories that feature characters I don’t think I was even conscious of prior to picking up this book: Zeresh, “Saul’s Daughter,” Achsah.
Enriched by Jonathan Kirsch’s foreword, Lemberger’s own afterword, and a writing style that seems exquisitely and perfectly attuned to the stories’ ancient settings, After Abel and Other Stories is a collection I know I’ll be recommending to others. For quite some time to come.