The Madwoman of Bethlehem

Content Warning: I usually write reviews of family-friendly books, so I wanted to give a heads up on this one: this story is for mature readers only, as it deals with heavy subject matter and contains some strong language and other content not for children.

The Madwoman of Bethlehem is a beautifully written story of abuse, family, and the triumph of grace in the midst of more than one kind of madness. Amal is a resident of the Oasis for Troubled Women, an insane asylum in Bethlehem where she has lived for nine years. The catch? She’s not mad. When a confrontation with one of the dangerous inmates leads to severe injuries, months in a hospital bed and encounters with a kind nurse and an old friend lead Amal to reflect on the twisted path that brought her here and made her who she is.

Second Story Press sent me a copy of The Madwoman of Bethlehem after I reviewed Rosine Nimeh-Mailloux’s first book, Mustard and Vinegar. The skill shown in that collection of short stories is fully realized in this novel, which was inspired, like Mustard and Vinegar, by the experiences of the author’s family. This book is a journey through the injustices of life, through a culture that in many ways aids those injustices, and especially through the mind of a woman — a very real woman who tries to be a saint but is, after all, a sinner; a woman who by turns trusts and berates God; a woman who suffers alienation and abuse but is finally set on the road toward new life by the love and friendship of a shining few.

This is a thought-provoking work, beautiful in places, ugly in others, but true to the plight of man and pointing to our need to change and transcend both our cultures and ourselves. I read all 364 pages in two sittings during a weekend visit home. Recommended for discerning readers.







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