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Book review: Beneath the Tamarisk Tree and interview with Rob Seabrook

This post consists of a book review, Author interview and links to other posts about this book.

Book review

Cover of Beneath the Tamarisk tree showing a landscape with trees
Text: Beneath the tamarisk Tree the story of a thief's redemption Rob Seabrook

I received a paperback copy of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree from the author, Rob Seabrook on the understanding that I would write an honest review.

Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is a novel set in Jerusalem in the time when Jesus of Nazareth was living as a man. The story jumps between times in the life of the person known as ‘the penitent thief’, who was crucified alongside Jesus. Rob Seabrook has imagined the kind of life that might have led to the thief being executed for theft. He also explores what the promise Jesus made, ‘today you will be with me in paradise’( Luke 23:43) might look like. It is a gripping story, which I finished reading the day after I received it.

As I was reading, the descriptive passages reminded me of the world-building of CS Lewis and George Macdonald. There is also a slight similarity with The Shack by William P Young in the way the Holy Spirit (in heaven) is portrayed.

Some of the ideas in the book may not match the beliefs of every reader, but Rob Seabrook is aware of this and mentions it in ‘A Note from the Author’ which precedes the novel.

There are questions at the end, ideal for reading groups, who might read a chapter and then meet to discuss it. More questions are available on the author’s website.

It is a book I shall probably read again at some time. There are many layers to appreciate in it.

Beneath the Tamarisk Tree is published by Malcolm Down Publishing. ISBN 978-1-915046-01-7

Rob Seabrook is doing a giveaway from 1st to 15th February 2023, offering 5 copies of the book or eBook to new subscribers to his email newsletter. The link to a simple entry form is here.

Interview with Rob Seabrook

As I was reading Beneath The Tamarisk Tree a few questions came into my mind. The first one was answered in the story. It was, How did growing children on the streets of Jerusalem obtain clothes to wear? The second question was, Have you ever been to Jerusalem and the Holy Land?

So far I have not travelled to the Holy Land, but it is certainly on my bucket list. I actually started writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree about 6 months before the first Covid lockdown, so by the time I realised it may have been useful to travel to see Jerusalem first hand, it became impossible. Having said that, the most useful would have been to visit Jerusalem in the first century, which was even more impossible!

So I had to rely on a lot of desk research, looking at maps and city plans, reading around the topic of what life in 1st century Judea may have been like. There was more information available on the Roman side of things, which helped with the scenes around the Crucifixion, but a lot less about the Jewish peoples. So I simply had to rely on my imagination to fill the gaps.

Your description of tamarisk trees is beautiful. Do any tamarisk trees grow in the UK? I can’t remember seeing one at Kew, but there are so many plants and trees there. Perhaps I haven’t visited in the flowering season.

Yes, they do. In fact I had a large one in the garden of the first house I bought in Oxfordshire. They also grow wild, especially along the south coast and in April and May you can often see the light pink fluffy flowers in full bloom. Since Beneath the Tamarisk Tree has been published, I have been given two saplings, which are both planted in my garden and are starting to flourish.

The penitent thief’s introduction to heaven was very gentle. Some people believe that purgatory comes before heaven. What do you think about that idea?

I spent quite a long time reading around the topic of eschatology – the theological study of what happens after we pass, our final destination and judgement. There are many theories, gleaned from some of the pointers that are contained in the Bible, and many people who will tell you that they know the answers.

The simple answer though is that we just don’t know, and won’t know until it happens to us and we get there. We simply have to trust in a loving, caring, kind and compassionate Father whose intention is not for us to suffer.

We know two things about the Penitent Thief – that he was a thief and that Jesus promised that he would be in Paradise. So in the story of Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, I wanted to paint the picture of the Penitent Thief going through a process from one condition to the other. From a thief to being rescued. This must have involved redemption, repentance, confession, healing, forgiveness, receiving the Holy Spirit … all the things that we as believers can enjoy. However, in the thief’s case it probably happened all in one incredible instantaneous moment, all at once. But that would not have made for a great story, so I took a little artistic licence to lengthen the process, to allow for a little more explanation as well as drama.

For anyone interested in looking deeper into the topic, I would recommend further reading from some superb academic experts, like NT Wright, or the likes of Randy Alcorn whose book “Heaven” is a very accessible but thorough study.

I know very little about you, except that you have reviewed some of the same books as I have. Can you tell me and my readers a little about your faith journey, please?

I grew up in a very loving, but not a Christian, home. My teenage years were spent at a boarding school which involved Chapel services three or four times per week, which I always found quite a dry experience. But something must have gone in even if I did not realise it at the time.

When at University I was going out with a young lady who began to re-discover her faith, hanging out with Christian friends and attending the Christian Union and a local church in Oxford (St Aldates). So I had two choices really!

In fact, I started going along with her to meetings, meeting Christians and finding it increasingly of interest and relevance. After some procrastinating I made a commitment, and of course ended up marrying that special lady!

Since then we have been actively involved in local churches wherever we have lived, and our family have been always blessed by the church community.

A few years ago we felt called to extend our family by fostering children, which has opened up our lives and our home to support others. The reason for mentioning this is twofold – firstly, it is incredibly challenging to our faith, testing patience and needing every ounce of spiritual support going. Secondly it proved helpful when writing Beneath the Tamarisk Tree, as it gave me significant insight into the sort of behaviours displayed by traumatised children.

Thank you, Rob. That is all very informative. Are you working on a second book?

I am working on another novel, although it is a little different, moving away from the Biblical fiction genre. I am just starting on a story that will look to highlight the wonders there are in creation, through the eyes of a young man who is fascinated by the natural world. He may not be looking for meaning or seeking the Creator, but he finds it through encounters with some older and wiser people who show him there is more in creation than he first imagined. I am just at the point now of having completed much of the research and background reading, and am about to embark on the writing … the thought of starting it is quite daunting though!

That sounds like a book I’d enjoy reading.

Other posts about Beneath the Tamarisk Tree

Natasha Woodcraft

Joy Margetts

Maressa Mortimer

Clementine Barton

Rob Seabrook has been interviewed by Matt McChlery in a podcast.

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New year, new activities

This year has begun with two of the groups I belong to – a choir and a writing group – needing to make decisions about the future. I believe that there will be a positive outcome for both.

My blogging has not yet included a book review, mainly because I haven’t been reading as much as usual. For the last few years if I had an idle moment, I’d pick up a book. Recently I have been picking up my knitting instead.

I have also been neglecting my piano-playing, which I enjoy. Perhaps I need to schedule a time to play.

Last year I heard a sermon based on the passage from Isaiah about God doing a new thing. New things are now being launched by the Church I belong to. My blog is perhaps not the place to write about them in detail, but I can say that it is encouraging to see new things happening after all the difficulties of the lockdowns. Perhaps you might pray with me for a blessing on all new, God-led initiatives by Churches.

Buds of pale mauve crocuses
Crocus buds January 18th

As snowdrops and other spring flowers are showing signs of new life, may that also be the case in our lives and communities.

After being stuck with my family history research, I have begun to find some interesting things, which should lead to a writing project some time in the future. Details of people’s lives are interesting, whether they were prospering or had times of adversity. Finding a writer on each side of my family (although not necessarily an ancestor in the direct line) has been interesting. One was a clerk and the other a printer and writer.

My posts for the next two weeks are almost ready. Those of you, who follow my blog for the book reviews should not be disappointed!

(For more of my photos, please click here.)

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A Christmas poem

Soon after I joined one of the Association of Christian Writers’ online genre* groups we were challenged to write something about the Christmas story. I shared one of my Advent poems, which may be heard on Soundcloud. (It is the third one.) The following poem has been published in ACW’s print magazine, Christian Writer. I read it in a concert of carols and readings in December 2021, but this is the first time the text has appeared online. It is the second of two poems on Soundcloud.

The poem is based on Luke 2:1-20

*The genre group is for Christian writers of historical and biblical fiction.

Christmas visitors 
 
Joseph (with Mary on a donkey) 
Arrived in Bethlehem 
And went to see 
If there was room for them. 
They had arrived too late! 
Cousins and uncles and a great aunt, 
Were quick to state, 
‘Stay here?’ ‘No chance!’ ‘You can’t!’ 
 
Joseph was downcast and asked, 
‘Is there no nook or cranny?’ 
A kinsman was tasked 
By a kind, friendly granny 
To show them the stable. 
It was warm and dry, 
So they were able 
To shelter. What’s that cry? 
 
Mary’s baby’s been born. 
Jesus is his name. 
He is lying on stalks of corn; 
Angels tell of his fame. 
 
Some shepherds came down 
From the fields, leaving sheep. 
They found the babe in the town. 
Was he fast asleep? 
The angels had told them, 
‘The Messiah is here. 
‘Go to Bethlehem. 
‘There is no need to fear!’ 
 
So they had left their sheep 
And gone to Bethlehem, 
Where the babe from sleep 
Blinked and gazed at them. 
They returned with great joy 
For they knew that they’d seen 
The most wonderful boy – 
A nativity scene! 
 
© Susan Sanderson 29 September 2021