Friday, 7 November 2014

The Testament of Mariam by Ann Swinfen

Audiobook version read by Serena Scott-Thomas

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit & Crimson Shore (

What we thought: I came to this with no preconception of this book or the story, and I am glad about that. I found it a slow burner, that although the writing was precise and engaging, the story did not immediately draw me in for the first few chapters. But I soon became engaged and enjoyed the twin threads, between the elderly Mariam, living a peaceful life on her farm with her son’s family and the story of Mariam’s first journey – that of the forgotten sister of Jesus who joined him on his travels and was there at his final execution.

As the characters developed, and we saw Mariam mature through childhood into a young woman, I found myself captivated by her presence, with a need to read on and learn about her journey, even though I already knew where the story would finale.

What I particularly enjoyed is that I learned as I read. I haven’t read the Bible since it was compulsory at school, but I realised both how much I’d retained and how much I didn’t know. I thought the author did a fascinating job getting across so much information without turning once to the need of info dumps. Also, she managed to transport us with ease to the location, so I could almost feel the hot sun and taste the sweet pomegranates. I admired the skill this writer shows in retelling such a well-known story in such a way that made it entertaining and gripping in equal measure.

The sign for me of a brilliant book is when I dread the approach of the end. That may have been here because I knew what fate waited for these characters who I’d come to know so well, but also because I’d so enjoyed my time in their company that I didn’t want it to end.

There’s no need to fear reading this book whatever your faith or whether you are an atheist or a believer. Mariam’s journey is as entertaining as any travelled by a Hobbit in Middle Earth. She just happened to have as a sibling the most famous man to have walked the earth, and the story of how she lived with this is compelling. This is a work of fiction, but knowing the context, did give it that special extra element for me. I am already planning to listen to the audiobook a second time, and I’m sure I’ll learn more about Mariam and her family that I didn’t take in first time round.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Stories of the bible, historical fiction.

Avoid if you don’t like: Jews, Romans, Christians, Israelites.

Ideal accompaniments: Roast lamb with rosemary, pomegranate and fig, washed down with red wine.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

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