Ellen Gunderson Traylor’s Mary Magdalene is a fictional account of the life of Mary Magdalene, Jesus of Nazareth’s most significant female follower. The novel chronicles Mary’s life from childhood through early adulthood. At the age of nine, Mary Bar Michael has many responsibilities, but she bears them with grace and resolve. She is a model Jewish girl, and the promise she made to her dying mother lingers: to keep the family together as long as she can. Young twins, a boy and a girl, are placed in Mary’s care. Her widowed father, Michael Bar Andreas, once a fisherman of repute, allows alcoholism, fueled by despair over his wife’s death, to engulf his life.
With her father no longer willing or able to provide for his children, Mary becomes her family’s chief caretaker. The children scavenge outside the village of Magdala, searching for scraps along the shoreline of Galilee. When sympathetic fishermen leave a portion of their catch for the children, the bounty enrages Michael. He refuses to allow his children to feast on charity. Obedient offspring, they deposit the fish on the ash heap and deny their hunger. The memory of her mother’s instruction in the domestic arts keeps Mary’s attitude positive in the face of parental neglect. A pact of lifelong friendship made with Suzanna, a disabled friend, is another blessing. Mary contemplates working as a maid in neighboring homes to support her siblings, but her plans derail.
Without Mary’s knowledge, Michael sells his daughter to the owner of a local brothel to secure funds for his addiction. In her own home, a terrified Mary endures a gang rape instigated by Ezra, manager of the brothel, and sanctioned by her father. It is a cruel initiation into the life that awaits her. For the next decade she will serve the pleasures of paying customers. However, before this transformation can occur, her identity as Mary must be expunged. Through a systematic brainwashing, Mary’s memories of her family and her Jewish faith are erased until only Rahab remains, a child prostitute who cannot recall her prior existence.
Initially, life in the brothel is less harsh for Rahab than for the other women. Because Ezra can demand a high price based on her...
(The entire section is 916 words.)