Shifting Sands: Life in the Times of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (2014), by Kathy Lowinger

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 19.5.

Lowinger-Shifting SandsWhen I first picked up this book, I thought it was a non-fiction account of these three religious figures. The subtitle at the top of the cover dominates, despite its smaller type; the title itself blends into the image below. (It’s the colour of the sky in the picture, and the colour of the type in the title, I think…) Regardless, readers should look past any assumption about the content and be prepared for three very human stories of young people living through three formative moments in history.

Dina is a slave in the House of Weavers who makes a difficult choice in following Moses and her people; Mattan is a farmer’s son who leaves his home and whose path crosses that of Jesus and his disciples; Fallah and his older brother have left their tribe and become victims in a conspiracy against Muhammad. Their histories twine seamlessly into the historical accuracy of Lowinger’s narrative, allowing readers to feel the insecurities of life the common people of these times endured. Although from our modern perspective we believe we know the benefits and dangers associated with the choices Dina, Mattan, and Fallah make, Lowinger helps us to understand how hard it would have been for simple young men and women to leave all that they knew and follow a new path, cutting themselves off from family and community. Little details of every-day life accentuate our narrative experience of history: the broken sandals Dina is given for her excellence in weaving; the small infected scrape that – with no antibiotics to prevent infection – kills Mattan’s sister Nirit; the dried fruit, nuts, and mare’s cheese that Fallah takes on the road. The minutia and the focus on human emotions and experience combine to give us powerful images of the effect these three religious leaders had on the people around them, and thus on the history of our world.

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