Crossroads: The Memoirs of a Palace Peasant Revised Edition
by Lucille L. Turfrey
Westwood Books Publishing

"The morning dawned on the opening of the new and, almost certainly the first, Christian Academy in the whole world."

From the minimal mention of the character of Manaen in the Holy Bible, author and poet Turfrey has composed a dynamic portrait of a man who faced seemingly impossible challenges and overcame them at nearly every “crossroads” of his long, devout life. Born a peasant, the boy Manaen enjoys a unique advantage stemming from his mother’s work as a generally mistreated servant in the palace of Herod. Manaen can freely roam the palace, where he meets Maryam, Herod’s daughter, who has a remarkably open-minded viewpoint. Despite her finery and aristocratic circumstances, she chats happily and often with Manaen.

When he turns thirteen, Manaen expresses and is granted his wish to begin schooling at the synagogue. He excels, amazing the rabbis with his seeming depth of knowledge of the Torah. Meanwhile, he is also meeting regularly with Maryam in a secret location she has chosen away from the palace, out on the fated hill of Golgotha. And there is something even more special in Manaen’s childhood: his mother takes him with her to aid in the birth of a child in a humble stable, where the baby Jesus will take his hand and smile at him.

Skilled as a scribe, the adolescent Manaen will continue to rise in status, becoming the personal secretary to Nicodemus, and will also continue to encounter Jesus. He will see him at the moment of his baptism and soon learn, along with his now fiancée Maryam, of the mad Herod’s intention to have John the Baptist beheaded. Later rulers take umbrage at the adoration of Jesus among their people—a perceived threat to their dominance—leading to the crucifixion, at which Manaen is present. Soon after, Manaen and Maryam must flee the city in the company of some of the close disciples of the now-resurrected Christ. Their refuge will be in Antioch, where Manaen is cited in the Bible as among the early church founders, the first people to be known as Christians, and to begin spreading the word of their master to the wider world.

Turfrey, born in Tasmania, became an officer in the Salvation Army in Australia after an early career as an art teacher. She has clearly dedicated much time to a diligent study of biblical writings, with this imaginative “insider’s view” of New Testament happenings, redolent with quotations from scripture and references to revered Hebrew icons and their accomplishments from ancient times.

Manaen is presented as someone wise, far above his years and his humble upbringing, and dedicated to his personal and professional role as a scribe, always carrying his writing kit as he and Maryam boldly travel far from their home and homeland, even hiding for a time in Roman catacombs, sustained by their understanding of God’s protection and the reverberating message of his son. Turfrey’s narrative skills are evident here, along with her poetic gifts, as her poems generously and appropriately enhance this well-structured drama. While offering rich speculation about Manaen, her novel also shares a grounded, historically supported portrait of Jesus and his followers that will fascinate and educate a wide range of readers.

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