Tessa Afshar’s “In the Field of Grace” is a heartwarming retelling of the story of Ruth

In the Field of Grace
By Tessa Afshar
River North Fiction

In the fields of grace

Tessa Afshar’s retelling of the story of Ruth

With summer right around the corner, many people are beginning to think about slowing down, taking time to do something pleasant and relaxing; like read a novel. If you love biblical fiction, Tessa Afshar’s newest novel, In the Field of Grace—which releases July 1st—will fill your heart with warmth and hope.

From the back cover:

Two women. Alone. With no provision. Can a woman who has lost everything, except her beloved mother, find hope in a foreign land?

Ruth leaves her home with a barren womb and an empty future, after losing her husband. She forsakes her abusive parents and follows the woman she has grown to love as a true parent, her husband’s mother, Naomi.

Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi’s, love. She is destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation. She is reduced to gathering leftovers once the harvesters have finished collecting grain from the field. A job only for the lowest of the low.

But God has other plans for her life.

While everyone considers Ruth an unworthy outsider, Ruth is shocked to find the owner of the field-one of the wealthiest and most honored men of Judah-is showing her favor.  Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz finds himself irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the dark, haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi’s chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.

It is no easy task to write a biblical novel. While the Bible contains many stories, it is not a storybook; it is a book of faith. Things like description of sights, sounds and smells, explanations of historical and cultural details are often left out of the stories found within its pages. As such, taking stories from the Bible and placing them in their historical and cultural setting is a challenge for the biblical novelist. Not only does the writer have to tell a compelling story, with three-dimensional characters, engaging dialogue, colorful descriptions and action that propels the story forward, but they have to handle the source material – the Holy Bible – with great care.

Tessa Afshar does that with all her biblical novels, including In the Field of Grace, which presents the story of Ruth as it might have happened. She brings her characters to life. Ruth is a shy young woman, happy when her parents ignore her, cringing when they do look at her; only when an older Jewish woman invites her home to meet her sons does she truly learn what love is. Naomi; a loving mother and mother-in-law whose grief nearly destroys her faith, only to see it flare once again. Boaz, who lost his wife in childbirth, is drawn to the loving loyalty of Ruth for his relative Naomi and subtly helps the two women, never expecting to be drawn to the young Moabitess.

The details Afshar includes in the story are indicative of her research. For instance, Scripture does not state that Ruth had no children from her first marriage. However, Afshar’s explanation of the kinsman-redeemer raising up children to Ruth’s dead husband, provides evidence that young widow might have been childless. Throughout the story, Afshar adds psalms and proverbs to the dialogue, which—considering Ruth and Boaz were the ancestors of David and Solomon—brings to light the practice of oral tradition being handed down through families.

Throughout In the Fields of Grace Tessa Afshar deftly weaves a story filled with beautiful imagery and uplifting messages; aspiring novelists would do well to study her works.