Imajin Books, 2011
Chances are good you've heard of Joseph - you know, from the Bible. The one who had the coat of many colors, and was sold into slavery in Egypt by his own brothers. But do you know about his wife? What is her story, and how did she end up married to Joseph? Those are the answers that Anna Patricio explores in Asenath, her debut novel.
From humble beginnings as the daughter of a fisherman in a small river village, Kiya's life is turned upside down time after time - first by raiders who ransack her village, killing her parents, then by the High Priest Lord Pentephres who brings her to the Temple in Heliopolis and later adopts her. Struggling to maintain her own identity, even as she adjusts to her new life as a member of the nobility, Asenath (as she is now known), grows into a striking young woman. Not just in terms of her beauty and height, but in terms of her person. Asenath is not content to sit idly by and while away her time in luxury, so she begins tutoring children of her parents' friends. Her heart is not bound by the structure of Egyptian society, and she sees the "slaves" around her as people - a compassion perhaps encouraged by her own humble beginnings. Asenath's unwillingness to conform to class distinction is tested - and proven true - when she meets Lord Potiphar's steward Joseph.
Joseph is both an indentured servant and a Hebrew - two strikes against him in the eyes of most Egyptians, but especially Lord Pentephres, who desires Asenath to marry someone of distinction and standing. At first, Asenath just feels an undeniable attraction to Joseph: he makes her feel safe, and he's gorgeous. (Good reasons, no?) But as they become friends through correspondence, she starts to feel a stronger connection. Trials come once more when Potiphar's wife accuses Joseph of attempting to rape her, and he is thrown in prison. During the long years of Joseph's imprisonment, Asenath continues to grow and develop into a charming, accomplished and very genuine young lady. Finding herself employed by Pharaoh's wife as Royal Tutor, she thanks "the God of my dear one" for the chance to be so close - even if still so far - to Joseph. When the story picks back up the familiar Biblical tale of Joseph and Pharaoh's dreams, Asenath finds herself once more in the company of Joseph - and undeniably falling deeply in love.
The course of true love never did run smooth, but everything Asenath and Joseph endure makes their love stronger - and helps burn the dross from each, so their characters are as strong and admirable as their love is true. Their relationship is a beautiful story, and as an imagining of how things may have played out, once upon a time...well, let's just say I find myself hoping something as beautiful is the true story. (There's a particularly telling incident early in the story that comes back into play later, and it made my heart smile). Asenath is not only the story of Asenath and Joseph however: it offers a wonderfully detailed glimpse at Egyptian society and culture. As an Art History minor and History major, I was thrilled to see so many familiar names and references. And the details Patricio paid to the dress and jewels and decor - lovely, simply lovely. If Asenath is a debut offering, I cannot wait to see what Patricio's second novel will be like!
eBook provided by author for review.