Monday, May 02, 2016


Title: Counted With The Stars
Author: Connilyn Cossette
Publisher: Bethany House
Pages: 352

I’ve read a lot of Biblical fiction that saw the characters walking with Jesus. But this was my first experience of reading fiction set in the times of the Old Testament, specifically, around 1448 BC, the time of the Exodus, and the years preceding it.

Kiya, a young Egyptian girl from a wealthy family, is sold as a slave to her father’s friend when his own business suffers losses, plunging him into bankruptcy. Her new mistress, Tekurah, is mean and harsh. Abandoned by her fiancé, Akhum, Kiya has no choice but to submit to Tekurah’s oppression.

Befriended by a Hebrew slave, Shira, Kiya learns of Shira's God, and His power and love for His people. An unwilling and unbelieving listener, Kiya's mind slowly changes as she receives visible proof of the power and might of Shira's invisible God. Nevertheless, she retains her doubts, and it is not until she throws her lot with the Hebrews that she faces an opportunity to resolve her doubts.

That opportunity comes soon enough. When God says that He will smite the first-born among the Egyptians, Kiya and her mother flee to the Hebrews in order to secure the safety of her physically challenged brother, Jumo. They leave Egypt along with Shira’s family, even as Kiya harbours fears that the Pharoah’s army will track down the Israelites and advance upon them, for the sake of wreaking vengeance.

One by one, it seems to Kiya, that Shira’s faceless and nameless God is waging war against each of her Egyptian deities. When Tekurah beats her mercilessly and has her chained in the cellar, Shefu signs her release and tells her to take her brother and mother to the Hebrews and to seek shelter there. For this is the night when Yahweh has made known that all the firstborn Egyptian males will be killed.

The story follows the first person point of view of Kiya, and explores her relationships with her mother, brother.

The pace of the book is slow at first. Long chapters are spent with the wayfarers as they wait for the Lord to reveal Himself. This wait is emblematic of the patience displayed by the Hebrew people over the course of over 400 years spent under Egyptian servitude. Imperceptibly, the pace picks up.

The character of Kiya undergoes a change. Initially, she is a proud and even slightly haughty Egyptian, and we don’t feel too much sympathy for her. The fact that she is heedless of the friendship offered by the slave girl, Shira, also makes her seem unworthy of that friendship. 

The suffering she undergoes at the hands of Tekurah helps her character undergo a transformation, and she begins to see the suffering of the Hebrew slaves she has taken for granted. She also begins to see the worth of Eben, Shira’s brother.

The other characters are all well etched. Tekurah, the tyrant mistress, who showed no mercy to her slaves; Shefu, the kind master; Shira, the Hebrew slave who is ever optimistic, and Eben, who goes on to become Kiya’s love interest. Even Jumo, who we meet much later in the story, endears himself to us.

Shira’s faith, even in captivity, infects Kiya and soon she finds herself pleading to Shira’s God, praying for mercy and release when her own gods seem unwilling or powerless to help.

Moshe, the great deliverer, is but a presence here. Only once does he walk across the pages, in a brief interaction with Kiya, where he assuages her fears. But it is unmistakably his actions, and the Pharoah’s reactions to them, that drive the story onward.

The writing is beautiful. The author leads us straight into the Egypt of the Old Testament. I was impressed with the research about Egyptian gods, their calendar and the Egyptian way of living prevalent at that time.

I had always found the Exodus narrative very interesting. The story of the plagues visited by Yahweh upon Pharoah and the land of Egypt for his refusal to let the Israelites go, it has always seemed to me, to be one of the most colourful parts of the Old Testament. Back in Sunday School, decades ago, we used to enjoy the story narrated by our teacher.

A later viewing of the Charlton Heston starrer, The Ten Commandments, served to reinforce the perception of a Pharoah receiving his just desserts. We barely spared a thought for the thousands upon thousands of Egyptians, men, women, children, and livestock, that suffered those plagues.

This book enabled me to see the plagues through the Egyptian eyes of Kiya, and to understand the agonies, horrors and discomforts her people went through. Her descriptions made those plagues seem more real. Each plague is worse than the preceding one. The plagues beat down the spirit of the Egyptians as also their faith in the invincibility of their Pharoah and their gods.

Of course, despite being well written, I realize that this is historical fiction and not realism. The real plagues must have been far deadlier than anyone’s mind could have imagined.

The author’s victory lies in the fact that she got us to even consider their point of view. When was the last time you read the Exodus narrative and felt the least bit of sympathy for the Egyptians?

Above everything, this book is a love story, between Kiya and Eben, and beyond them, a love story between the Israelites and God.

I would recommend this to anyone who has a taste for Biblical fiction. 

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