Short Story Review: “Drawn From the Water” (Michal Lemberger)

Michal Lemberger‘s collection of short stories, After Abel: and other stories, (March 2015) brings the women of the Hebrew Bible to the forefront  through 9 female driven tellings of biblical stories. As Lemberger describes her work, “This book presents an imaginative engagement with the ancient world–its landscapes, relationships, and laws.” Lemberger has taught literature courses about the Hebrew Bible at UCLA, and her knowledge of the ancient world permeates each story. after-abel-mech-21

“Drawn From the Water” is Miriam’s story, and her world as a Hebrew slave in Egypt. It’s a story about this world more so than her sending her baby brother Moses down the river in a basket. Lemberger’s characterization of Miriam sells me on this piece. Miriam’s eight years old, but clearly a precocious eight from living as a slave and having to be more adult. “It’s all pretty complicated,” Miriam narrates about trying to save the male children born to Hebrew families, “but not for me. Because I’m a fast runner, I’m sent on errands […] I run between [the construction sites], delivering messages and things like that.” Miriam is a fast runner; the fastest runner. This is information we could never know from her role in the Book of Exodus, but which immediately creates a human character with talents and abilities. We all knew that kid, the fast one, who ran the fastest and maybe bragged about it (or maybe we were that kid). It’s details like Miriam’s ability to run quickly which open up the hidden world of slavery in Egypt. As with all oppressive regimes, there are rebellions, even small ones, that often go unrecorded in history (women helping each other give birth, families hiding each other’s male babies). Every element of this story ties into that central theme of unrecorded narratives, and little rebellions. Because ultimately, this is Pharaoh’s daughter’s story as well, and her rebellion of taking in a male Hebrew baby.

After Abel was a National Jewish Book Award Finalist in 2015. You can buy your own copy of the full collection of stories here.