In David DeSilva’s Day of Atonement, Greece has conquered almost all the known world. Only one outpost remains—the city of Jerusalem. Will the Hebrews assimilate peaceably? Or will they risk annihilation and be destroyed forever?
The setting of Day of Atonement is one of the greatest strengths of the novel. De Silva masterfully paints Jerusalem as it was during the second century B.C. His attention to historical detail in regard to the temple sacrifices and Greek architecture are well-researched and informative. The story is an interesting vehicle in which to show the inter-testamental time in biblical history and highlight events that very few Christians know about.
Day of Atonement is told through multiple points of view, balanced between the Hebrew and the Greek perspectives. Each character has a unique voice and personality which is the key ingredient for an interesting story. However, the dialogue is used to inform the reader and make a moral point. As a result, the narrative has a stop-and-go feel to it, which is frustrating.
The novel has all the elements of a successful plot. There is interesting dialogue, fascinating historical detail, and heart-pounding action in places. However, the narrative lacks balance and has an uneven flow, hampering the aim of a successful and entertaining story; the author puts too much attention on deviant behavior and gratuitous violence, a disappointing distraction from this very informative and potentially entertaining read.
The characters in Day of Atonement are likable and sympathetic, but it seems they are playing roles and pulled along with the plotline. The emphasis is placed on their actions rather than their personalities. As a result, the characters never quite reach their full potential and Day of Atonement isn’t as deep as it could be.
The conflict in Day of Atonement is mostly driven by external events. Each character must confront complex circumstances due to their poor choices. This causes great internal turmoil as the characters must respond to their changing environment and can no longer straddle the fence. However, they are not free to choose the consequences of their choices. This epic dilemma makes conflict one of the greatest strengths of the story.
Day of Atonement has a definite spiritual message worth heeding. The dangers of compromise and assimilation threaten to swallow Israel, contradicting and undermining God’s commands to His people. Israel’s disobedience would endanger their distinct culture and dilute their hegemony. In the nation’s attempt to accept and live under foreign influence, Israel would almost be annihilated into extinction.
Day of Atonement may be geared to a Christian audience who like informative historical fiction, but may be better suited for secular readers because of graphic material. First, there are some conversations that have sexual innuendo. One could reasonably expect this when the Greek culture is depicted in a secular novel, but it is surprising to find coarse language in a Christian account. Is there some other way to communicate the differences in the Greek and Jewish societies without resorting to offensive language? In addition, the violence made some of the scenes difficult to read. It is not for the faint-hearted. The torture portrayed in the novel may be historically accurate but incredibly brutal, so readers should be forewarned.
In short, with its rich historical setting and incredible conflict, Day of Atonement has potential. However, because of its uneven plot and gratuitous violence, it is average.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.