I can think of a lot to say about this book. The problem is that I don't know if I can articulate any of it well enough to be readable, let alone understandable. This is a book so rich and layered that to try and condense it all into a review is just impossible to me. In fact, it's been so damn hard to review for me that I've put off writing this for about four weeks. So excuse me if I don't do the book justice. You should just read it yourself.
Bruce Feiler is an American journalist who took up a massive journey through the Middle East with the intention of following the first five books of the Bible. In a trip that took him through Turkey, Israel, the Sinai desert, Egypt, back again through the desert through Jordan and ended up in Israel, Feiler followed the footsteps of the patriarchs of the Bible. With the assistance of an Israeli archaeologist and guide, he drew from years of research and the Bible itself to visit the sites where the patriarchs might lived or passed through. It's an astounding journey, full of fascinating stories and rich in history, religion and politics. Everywhere he goes Feiler meets people from all faiths and nationalities, and to each he asks the question "What does the Bible mean to you?". They all have answers, and it's truly inspiring to read how all of these locations mean something to the people who live there.
Feiler starts out as somewhat of a skeptic; he believes in God but knows that the Bible is flawed, but he's not looking to either confirm or deny what's written in it. What he wants to do is explore these locations, and, by being in them, perhaps experience something of what the patriarchs and the people in Israel went through on their journey. He tries to keep himself detached, but he can't help but feel moved as he journeys through the desert or be inspired when he stands atop of Mount Sinai. It's truly a life-changing journey, and it makes for an emotional read.
It's also a very long, slow read, but in this case it's not a bad thing. I found myself reading only a chapter at a time, then putting it down and mulling over what I had just read. Every new location leads to a detailed description of the history of the place, how it fits into the Bible, the people who live in it, and what the author learned while he was there. To put it simply, it's just interesting to read. It doesn't matter whether you've ever read the Bible or whether you believe in God or not, this book will let you understand the history of these countries, and what shaped them into what they are today. Feiler is a great storyteller, and this is really a wonderful book, very accessible and not at all preachy or sunk in theology. It's so varied and layered that I think anyone could find something interesting about it, and I definitely learned a lot.
And it left me with a pretty strong desire to visit these places one day. Though I don't think I'd like to ride on a camel.