City of Refuge-by Valerie Farber: A book review by Michael Sherman

A Rejuvenating Heritage Book Review

August, 2009

Valerie Farber has written a fascinating piece of historical fiction. The novel completely succeeds in two distinct ways. First, she has written an engrossing novel that excites us through the twists and turns of the lively characters she creates. Secondly, she details the lives of Jews (and Cannanites) during the period of the Judges, before there was a kingdom in Israel.

Bat Shachar, the novels' heroine, is a teenage girl yearning for personal freedom under the strict (Torah based) laws of her devout Priest (Rabbi) father. Tzuriel, the novels hero, learns metal working to help defend his people from attacks by bandits. Through her will to be independent and a freak accident of his, they are forced to flee together to a city of refuge while a mob attempts to kill them on the way. Through her journey she more appreciates the traditions of her family, while her family more appreciates her desire to be more independent. The book not only describes the lives of Tzuriel and Bat Shachar, their friends, families, and enemies but also shows us how they lived daily life in these times. Through a series of sketches the author depicts how they would write on a wax tablet, make charcoal, make clothes, and make weapons.

A city of refuge (Hebrew: Ir Miklat) is described in the books of Moses as a place where those accused of a crime can flee while their fate is being decided. The Bible explicitly states the case that family members wanting to avenge the loss of a loved one, would often desire to murder in retribution the one they perceive as having murdered their own. Of course, the perceived killer may have killed by accident, or may not be even involved in the original death at all.

I have read portions in the Torah on the Cities of Refuge and often thought of what the circumstances were for the necessity of such places. Valerie Farber has dramatically brought this era alive and dramatically illustrated why the cities of refugee were necessary. This is an entertaining and compelling read.

To learn more about this unique novel you can visit the authors site at City of Refuge, also available at