Joann Davis: The Book of the Shepherd

January 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Fiction

9780061732300978-0061732300 – Hardcover – HarperCollins – $19.99

The Book of the Shepherd: The Story of One Simple Prayer and How it Changed the World is a beautifully written parable that made me think of writers like Paulo Coelho and Kahlil Gibran.  The conceit of the book is that the author finds a manuscript in a house in Vermont, and has it translated, thus this story.  It’s a short book, and an easy read, but of course, because it is a parable, the book demands to be re-read and thought about deeply.

The story has no distinct place or time.  Joshua is the shepherd who is troubled by the code of “an eye for an eye” that governs his world.  He has a dream about “a new way” and sets off on a quest to find it.

Stone the builder who erects a house that falls on its occupants. Sever the hands of the criminal who pilfers livestock or grain or another’s garment. Whip the child who defies an elder. For such is the law and the law must be obeyed.

For generations, these ironclad rules had governed the people. Nobody questioned whether it was right to humiliate a child or execute a murderer. An eye for an eye was the way of the world.

But was there another way?

Joshua is accompanied by Elizabeth, a former slave who is kind and generous, and David, a boy who must learn to walk in new shoes. Joshua believes that “an age of miracles” will come when the new way is found.

As with any quest, there is adventure along the way. En route to a cave near the Great Inland Sea, the travelers meet a number of interesting and compelling characters, including the Storyteller, the Apothecary, the Blind Man, and the Stranger. Each passes on an important lesson as the travelers journey toward what we realize is their destiny. At the cave, Joshua must see if he can bring forth secrets long buried. But he, Elizabeth, and David will discover that what they have been searching for has been inside them all along.  In the end, The Book of the Shepherd is compelling and meaningful, whatever your political, social or religious outlook or beliefs.  It’s not heavy handed or preachy, and even for many secularists, will be well worth the investment of time to read.

Joann Davis is an experienced writer and former book editor.  She is extremely articulate and passionate about her work, and was a pleasure to interview.  We talked about her work as a writer, her own spirituality, and how The Book of the Shepherd can change people and the world for good.