Title: Return to Me
Author: Lynn Austin
Narrator: Suzanne Toren
Published: October 2013. Bethany House (print), Recorded Books (audio)
Genre: Biblical Fiction
Series: The Restoration Chronicles, Book 1
Duration: 15 hours, 8 minutes. Unabridged.
About the Book (From Publisher Bethany House):
After decades of exile, the prophesies are coming true–King Cyrus has declared the Jews may return to Jerusalem. Iddo, a priest, is sure this is a sign of God’s renewed favor. For too long they’ve remained in Babylon, and many, including Iddo’s sons, are losing the faith that sets them apart. And so only a few choose to leave everything to return–return to their home and their God.
Nothing about their journey to the Promised Land is easy. As hardships mount, even the faithful, like Iddo’s beloved wife, Dinah, question the sacrifice of following God’s leading. Zechariah, Iddo’s oldest grandson, feels torn between his grandfather’s ancient beliefs and the family they left behind. But one life-changing encounter with the Holy One gives him insight that will change Zechariah–and history–forever.
Bringing the Old Testament to vibrant life, Return to Me tells the compelling story of two men living by faith in the midst of doubt, the women who love them, and the faithful remnant struggling to rebuild their lives in obedience to the God who beckons them home.
My Thoughts on the Story:
Biblical fiction is at its best when it adds new life and understanding to Biblical stories by filling in cultural context and imagining details and characters that could have been. Lynn Austin’s Return to Me does that for the story of the first wave of God’s people returning from exile in Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
The story is epic, spanning multiple decades, and featuring a large cast of characters, several viewpoints, and a variety of interrelated subplots. There was Iddo, determined to do God’s will and rebuild the temple, and his wife Dinah, who wasn’t so sure about being uprooted from what had become their home and leaving much of their family behind in Babylon. Then there was Zechariah, a young man of thirteen still growing into his faith as they depart Babylon, and his childhood friend Yael, who is drawn to astrology and the pagan practices of the people of Babylon. All interesting characters facing realistic challenges, that seemed at times surprisingly applicable to modern day life and faith.
This quote by Yael (page 394) particularly resonated with me, probably because I’m in a season of child-rearing myself:
“Yes, I understand. You’ve found joy because you’re doing God’s work. And I’m trying to tell you that I’ve found joy too because if we obey God, then our lives do have meaning, even if all He asks us to do is cook lentils and raise children.”
One of my favorite aspects of the story is the way the events (both good and bad) happening in individual lives and within families parallel what’s happening on a larger scale with God and his people, and lead to the characters coming to realizations about God that deepen their faith. I thought those details were beautifully orchestrated, and really brought home the point of the story in a meaningful and memorable way.
I highly recommend this book to fans of historical and Biblical fiction, and to anyone curious to learn more about Old Testament times and cultural context.
My Thoughts on the Audio:
Suzanne Toren’s voice gives this story a dignified feel, perfect for Biblical fiction. Her reading is articulate and clear. It reflects the emotions of the characters as well as their individual attributes. Despite the sheer length of the book (464 pages in paperback), the time seemed to fly by while listening, leaving me eager to read the next book in the series, on finishing this one.