By Anote Ajeluorou
Perhaps, you have not read the amazing story of Esther in the bible, and how she brought Godly enlightenment to a people, who ordinarily had nothing to do with the Jewish God who resides in the Heavens. Well, a first-time novelist, Titi Horsfall, has carved a delightful piece of tale from the life of a once peasant woman, who warmed her way into the heart of one of most powerful kings on earth, king of Medo-Persian empire, King Darius.
For Horsfall, Esther’s story should be every woman’s story, as persons who should strive daily towards godly virtues in all they do. Esther and her parents were in ancient Babylon as captives when soldiers burst into their living room and killed her parents for persevering in propagating Jewish religion to their young ones. She thus became an orphan and was passed onto the care of her uncle, Mordecai to be brought up.
Soon after, the Media and Persians struck impregnable Babylon and it fell. They took the Jews into captivity again in a place farther away from Jerusalem. Esther and Mordecai were shepherded to the Median and Persian capital, Shushan, where Mordecai, with her ward Esther, and other Jews settled for a peasant life in a camp.
Life became a drudgery for young Esther, who still mourned her parents’ brutal killing. Then one day, things began to change both for Esther and her guardian. Queen Vashti, wife of King Darius, refuses to respond to her husband’s call to show her off before his important guests. This provokes to king to great anger, enough to reject her as his wife and queen of the Medo-Persian empire. The king orders for fresh maidens and virgins to be brought from all over the empire before him so he could choose one for his new queen.
Mordecai, who works at the king’s gate, sees God’s hand in the contest for the king’s heart and promptly sets up Esther for the contest that was to change the history of a vast empire. He dismisses Esther’s protestations of peasantry and diffidence. In a year-long contest, Esther, a Jew and foreigner, emerges winner and the king’s choice of wife and queen over the daughters of the land. This remarkable feat by a peasant girl of no consequence from another land in winning the heart of the king can only be viewed as something of a miracle.
By the time the king discovers that his beloved queen is a Jew, so much has happened such that even the King Darius has begun to pay obeisance to the Jewish God who resides in the heavens. So much so that her only son, who is eighth in line, is willed the vast kingdom and is made king in spite of fierce opposition from the older sons from Vashti. In all this, God’s hand plays a major role as the godly teachings of Mordecai become Esther’s beacon and daily guide in all she does.
Even in the heat of the most difficult periods in that foreign empire, Esther’s trust and faith in her God see her and her Jewish people through, especially when the highest ranking political officer after the king, Hamman is intent on destroying the Jews because Mordecai fails to bow before him in greeting. The Jewish weapons of prayer and fasting in bringing their petition before God and Mordecai’s act of loyalty to the kind help them to prevail over their enemies.
Eventually, Esther leads a triumphant train back to Jerusalem where rebuilding work on the Temple of Solomon for the restoration of the Jewish people after many years as slaves in foreign lands starts.
In From an Orphan to a Queen Esther, Horsfall has crafted a convincing and full-fleshed narrative out of a simple biblical tale. The work is a result of careful study and research into the history of the Middle East and the great empires that sprang and fell to provide the author a rich tapestry on which she weaves her narrative. She accounts for the opulent lifestyles, the vast wealth of the Medo-Persian empire, the customs and traditions and what emerges is a fine, believable and realistic portraiture of the characters.
In Horsfall’s imagination, the ancient become modern as this narrative speaks the heart of a fine heroine who ventures into alien territory and emerges a conqueror in spite of great odds around her. Hamman’s fall from grace to grass and eventual annihilation and Mordecai’s rise from nothing to the highest post in a foreign land are counterpoints of which legends are made. Horsfall brings all these together in a neat tale. Her descriptive power is also assured, especially of nature and human intuition as espoused in the development of Esther’s winsome personality.
This is how she starts the narrative in the ‘Prologue’, as Queen Esther reflects on the years that have gone by and how she came to be where she was as a beloved queen in a foreign land, “The garden lay warm and inviting. In a profusion of hues, flowers blossomed lushly with colours of the rainbow. Their scents hung heavily in the still air. In a small fenced-off pond, swans glided gracefully in bliss, while not far off her soft-gray eyes misted over. Her gaze rested on the weeping willow which framed and cast dark shadows over the bathing pond. She walked slowly on unsteady feet to this favourite spot.
“Her beauty, which transcended time, was shielded with her thick, white tresses like clouds cresting the mountain peaks. Her beauty was such that only the heavens could give, for the turbulent years had not drained her fountain of youth. As she walked towards the weeping willow, she stopped to pluck her favourite flower, a myrtle. In its distinct scent, she revelled in the pleasure of the moment and stared across the expanse of the pond, drinking in its rich beauty. As she walked on, she mused that there are certain things in life one can never get enough of. This is one such thing. This was her favourite spot. It was her place of worship, a place of communion with God. It was her place of quiet reflection”.
Indeed, it was such reflection, such communion with her God that made her transcendent life possible! Horsfall’s From Orphan to a Queen Esther is a reverting read.