Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sarah, Son of God by Justine Saracen

Book:  Sarah, Son of God
Author:  Justine Saracen
Publisher:  Bold Strokes Books

My father, Jimmie Wayne, passed away in 2005. 

In many ways, he was a simple man, driven by faith and a desire to do good deeds.  He was an Elder in the church, a schoolteacher, and a guidance counselor.  He delivered Meals on Wheels, served most of his adult life on the Board of County Commissioners, and worked until his final day to bring clean, running water to the rural farms and homesteads of the only place he ever lived.  He raised his children to be open-minded, and instilled an impressive work ethic through example.  He loved to eat, laugh, and tell stories.  More than anything, he loved to share lessons-learned­.

And talk.   Oh, how the man loved to talk…

I’m sure one of the hardest conversations he ever had was when he was forced to explain to his twelve year old daughter that despite her numerous trophies and impressive scores in Punt, Pass and Kick competitions, she wasn’t allowed to play football with the boys in high school, and she wasn’t ever going to play Linebacker for Notre Dame.

And, if I may be so bold, the Fighting Irish haven’t been the same since they lost out on my considerable linebacking services.

I bring this up because there remain few sacred places outside of sports and the more orthodox of religions where gender outweighs capability or capacity.   On April 5th, I posted a review of The Way by Kristen Wolf, which reimagined the life and death of Jesus through a cross-dressing young woman trained by a mystical and secret society of women hiding in the desert to follow the teachings and share the healing abilities of their ancient Mother Earth based sisterhood.  The Way is daring and compelling, and explores the fractured themes of transformation, betrayal, love, loss, deception, and redemption.

And as soon as I finished it, I knew I had to pull Justine Saracen’s Sarah, Son of God off the shelf and look at the similar yet different theme of lesbians, gender, and religion.

Sarah, Son of God tells the story of Renaissance historian, Joanna Valois and her transgendered translator, Sara Falier, as they travel to Venice to learn the story behind an intriguing set of letters written by Lenora, who escaped the Inquisition after publishing a heretical book brought to her by a Jew from Constantinople.  As the two read through the letters together, they learn that the author of the letters escaped by ship, dressed as a man, and was sailing to England to be reunited with her female lover.  The letters soon lead Joanna and Sara on a unexpected and convoluted quest for information that puts both their lives in danger and sends them on a daring journey as they seek to uncover and expose the truth behind the heretical book that cost so many lives.

Sarah, Son of God is a story within a story within a story—a literary matryoshka doll.  The pursuit of the story behind Lenora’s letters sends Joanna and Sara on a crusade that leads them to the heretical book and the truth within it.  The reader is transported from New York to Venice to Munich to Jerusalem, and through the use of letters, the reader is allowed to see and feel and experience everything Lenora and Sarah do.  Ms. Saracen manages to provide the reader with not only a romantic and picturesque view of Venice, but also with the stench of infected wounds and the sounds of brutal torture.

Through Sarah, Son of God, Ms. Saracen has delivered four complex and fully satisfying characters.  Joanna is a lesbian, somewhat butch and with a jaunty Fedora; Lenora wishes to marry her female lover and wonders if she will like her as a “man,” Sara is transgendered and unsure of whether she is a transsexual or a transvestite, and Sarah dresses as a man because she wants to and ultimately needs to.  Gender and sexuality, for all four, quietly shape the overall story and lend a welcome credence to the translated codex, and the ultimate sacrifices of Sarah.

And, in case you’re wandering, Sara and Sarah are two different characters with more than a few similarities across the centuries.

Sarah, Son of God can lightly be described as the “The Lesbian’s Da Vinci Code” because of the somewhat common themes.  At its roots, it’s part mystery and part thriller.  The reader will find a romance, bad guys with deep connections, and an academician uncovering a two-thousand-year old cover-up that will surely blow the lid off the very concept of Christianity.  However, Ms. Saracen’s story is involving, intriguing and constantly seems on the edge of startling revelations––not so much related to religious truths as it is related to sexual dynamics and fluidity throughout history.

Sarah, Son of God is an engaging and exciting story about searching for the truth within each of us.  Ms. Saracen considers the sacrifices of those who came before us, challenges us to open ourselves to a different reality than what we’ve been told we can have, and reminds us to be true to ourselves.  Her prose and pacing rhythmically rise and fall like the tides in Venice; and her reimagined life and death of Jesus allows thoughtful readers to consider “what if?”

Much like my statement at the conclusion of the review for Kristen Wolf’s The Way:  If you are a bible purist or looking for a warm and fuzzy lesbian love story, Justine Saracen’s Sarah, Son of God isn’t the book for you.  However, if you’re looking for a well-written, thought provoking, interesting read that is sure to liven up a few water-cooler conversations at work, then this is a book you will assuredly want to read. 

I’m giving Sarah, Son of God a 5.0 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale.


  1. I had to go back and read these two reviews again because there was still more meat on the bone, so to speak. That both authors chose to re-imagine a familiar story intrigued me. Truthfully, I've had similar ideas for a story.
    Both of your reviews were clear, descriptive and contained enough 'meat' to whet my appetite for more. I'll definitely add both books to my list. Thanks for broadening the scope of the Rainbow Reader, once again. This really is an education in lesbian literature!

  2. Hiya Barrett, thanks for stopping by! Your comments are always appreciated and make me smile. I know the topics covered over the last two reviews have been outside the traditional "lesfic" fare, but both books were fascinating to me on so many levels. I'm sure you'll enjoy both books when you get around to reading them.