As far too many writers have proven, it can be a significant challenge to offer a fresh and satisfying perspective on the familiar events in the life of Christ, particularly the final week of Jesus' life on earth and the drama of the crucifixion and resurrection. But if there's one thing Sigmund Brouwer has proven, he's willing to take on a challenge, and his gifts as a writer are clearly equal to the challenges he faces.
Brouwer offers a view of the events of Holy Week through the eyes of a merchant named Simeon, who has sacrificed the love and respect of his family in his unrelenting efforts to accumulate wealth. As a visitor to Jerusalem, he has heard of this prophet named Jesus and witnessed His arrival in the city, to the praise and adulation of the people who shouted hosannas at the sight of Him. Throughout what will prove to be a tumultuous week, Simeon wrestles with his personal pain and the memories of the losses he has suffered, his numbing depression, and the suicidal thoughts that seem to offer the only hope for escape from his shame and sorrow.
But that was before his encounter with the living Christ. Simeon is, of course, Simeon of Cyrene, the bystander pressed into service by Roman soldiers to carry the cross when Jesus' battered body continually fell under its weight. As you might suspect, his life is transformed in the process. But Brouwer wisely allows that transformation to take place over time, steering clear of a predictable I've-carried-His-cross-and-now-I've-seen-the-light moment.
Brouwer's skill as a storyteller is evident in all his books, and THE WEEPING CHAMBER is no exception. He creates a compelling backstory for Simeon's life and offers up the relevant details of that life a little at a time, keeping the reader in a continual state of curiosity about this man who has lost the will to live. He allows the story to unfold naturally through a seamless, gripping narrative and the daily letters Simeon writes to the wife whose love he has carelessly discarded.
Even the familiarity of Palestine at the time of Christ gets a fresh makeover in Brouwer's hands, with the scenes that take place in Simeon's seaside home in his native Cyrene providing a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of Passover-week Jerusalem. Add to that the ability to write that most elusive of fictional elements --- believable dialogue --- and it's not hard to see why Brouwer has such a loyal fan base.
THE WEEPING CHAMBER breathes new life into the story of Simeon and the journey from Palm Sunday to the empty tomb, just as a brief encounter with Jesus breathes new life into a man whose spirit is slowly dying. For fans of biblical fiction, especially those who have been disappointed by other historical novels set at the time of Christ, Brouwer's latest is a must-read.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on January 8, 2004