Sholem Asch’s novel Mary has to follow the familiar Biblical narrative about the mother of Jesus, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for surprises. Before you open the cover, you know what’s going to happen.
The most intriguing part of the plot is in how the young Jesus grows into a knowledge of his destiny. The explanations Asch has Mary and Joseph give to Jesus’ questions about the scriptures are thoughtful and thought-provoking.
As in most religious novels, the interest is in the detail rather than the main story. Asch pads his tale with tidbits about geography, climate, history, and contemporary customs. While I’m glad to know Jews were required to feed their animals before they ate, I don’t find that fact particularly exciting.
None of Asch’s characters seems like a real person—not even the people who were real people.
Asch invents Nazarenes in an attempt to bring in some local color. But instead of creating a sense of reality, the invented characters read like a list of dramatis persona.
Asch has characters speak long passages from the Torah and other religious materials, which only makes them sound more fake.
Mary is somewhat interesting, but never entertaining.Mary
By Sholem Asch
Trans. by Leo Steinberg
G. P. Putnam’s Sons 1949
436 pages 1949 bestseller #3
My grade: C-