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Saturday, July 26, 2014

What I’m Reading: The Call of the Green Bird

The problem with melodrama is that it’s all too convenient to take seriously.  Plausibility can only be stretched so far.  The Call of the Green Bird [i] by Alberta Hawse stretches it too far, and the whole bird comes crashing down.

The story follows a young Bedouin boy, Mi’kal –the prince of his tribe.  But he’s not just prince of one little tribe of tent dwelling Bedouins, he’s really the grandson of King Aretas of the Nabateans.   (And though it’s not specified in the novel, based on the story’s timeline, it must be Aretas IV Philopatris.) 

Coincidence follows coincidence.  Convenience follows convenience.  If Mi’kal is ever in danger, there is always another character conveniently located just a page or two away to rescue him from the river, or the bandits, or the soldiers….  He is welcomed and acclaimed as a prince (twice) and loaded with fortune and finds a beautiful, though impetuous, woman to fall in love with. And she with him, of course. 

Of course.

This is how a melodrama works. 

And not only that, but one of his friends is the secretly-not-dead son of Mark Antony, Alexander Helios.  The twists of fortune force Mi’kal to flee from Syria to Israel where he meets up with Judas Iscariot and Barabbas (both members of the Zealots), Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the Centurion whose servant Jesus healed.

Everyone that Mi’kal meets as he stumbles through the story knows Jesus or knows about him.  He strikes out at random hoping to meet up with Jesus and – of course – he does.  Never mind the odds of finding a single individual at random out of the population of the entire country; it’s a melodrama.

Everything is convenient.  And everything ends happily.

The shortcomings of a melodrama could be forgiven if the book had better reflected the world of Jesus.  The book is described as “historical fiction” but it’s more fiction than history. The Call of the Green Bird is not much more than a naïve evangelical impression of what Israel in the first century was like based on Sunday school lessons, and the smallest modicum of historical research. 

[i] Hawse, Alberta The Call of the Green Bird, Multnomah Books, Sisters OR, 1995.

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