The Book of Rachael

Book of Rachael cover art

What if the man you loved betrayed your brother? Two thousand years ago, as a charismatic young preacher from Nazareth was gathering followers among the people of Galilee, his sister swept floors and dreamed of learning to read. In Leslie Cannold’s story, it is the women of Nazareth who take centre stage.

The rebellious, gifted Rachael, consigned by her sex to a life of drudgery.

Bindy, the crone who teaches her the skills of the healer.

Shona her sister, the victim of a harsh social code, and their mother Miriame, a woman seemingly unable to love.

When Rachael falls in love with her brother’s dearest friend, the rebel Judah of Iscariot, it seems that at least one of the women of Nazareth may find happiness. Then a message comes from her brother in Jerusalem and events begin to unfold that will change not just Rachael’s life, but the world, forever.

“Passionate, eloquent and compelling, a terrific idea beautifully realised – I couldn’t put it down.”

Liz Byrski

“Only a writer as insightful as Cannold could imagine Rachael’s story so intelligently. Read it as a historical page-turner, as a moving romantic tragedy or as a parable about equality-but read it.”

Toni Jordan

“The church has spent millennia writing women out of history. In the wonderful Book of Rachael, Leslie Cannold returns them to their rightful place at the centre of one of our most powerful stories.”

Sophie Cunningham

What Critics are Saying about The Book of Rachael

Cannold develops Rachael as a well-rounded, independent, and morally complex character who is not solely defined by her relationships with men…[and] offers a thought-provoking, heartfelt, and tragic but redemptive tale about the difficulties of discovering and defining one’s identity in a world that seeks unendingly to take that decision away.

Publisher’s Weekly

The Book of Rachael tells the story of Jesus' younger sister, who is ‘ambitious, passionate and unconstrained by her upbringing’, and who ‘falls in love with Judah of Iscariot, Joshua’s best friend and the man who will change their lives forever’. Public commentator and nonfiction author Leslie Cannold had chosen an ambitious topic for her first foray into the world of fiction. She extends this story in an expert manner, showing the reader the reality of the women in Jesus' life through engaging and fast-paced prose. 4 stars

The Bookseller & Publisher Magazine

Cannold is well known for her intelligence and eloquence, but even so this book shows remarkable confidence for a debut novel…It’s as if she picked up the bible one day and, with fresh eyes, saw a real, complex world between the lines.

ABC Radio National’s The Bookshow

Essentially, it is a love story about courageous people. It is fastpaced and the narrative is superb. One can only imagine the amount of research needed to achieve such an ode to a time passed.

Chris Gordon, Readings Independent Bookshops

There are dangers in attempting to fictionalise such a well-loved story as the life of Christ. First, the resulting account might offend. It might collapse into cliché. Or it might be filled with contemporary sensibilities, creating a world too familiar to our own. Though The Book of Rachael skirts each of these minefields, it is testament to the literary skills of Leslie Cannold that this debut novel avoids them.

Adair Jones, The Courier Mail

The Book of Rachael should be celebrated for its intelligence, eloquence and its fascinating version of well-known events. Cannold sustains her reader’s interest from the first page to the last, offering us a credible explanation for one of the most incredible stories in our culture. Indeed, this is all the more impressive when we learn that The Book of Rachael is Cannold’s debut novel, a remarkably confident and assured beginning to what I hope will be a long career in literature.

Duncan Driver, Panorama

This is, unquestionably, the best book I’ve read in ages….Splendid in its conception, and splendid in its execution…Not since The Handmaid’s Tale has the perilous position of women been so cogently evoked…Unputdownable.

ANZ LitLovers Blog

This is a beautifully narrated story about equality, independence and love.

Sunday Herald Sun

Verdict: Compelling.


C.K. Stead, whose find book My name was Judas moves in territory close to that of Leslie Cannold…The contrast between Judah, a hot-head and man of action and Joshua, Rachael’s famous brother, a teacher and wisdom figure, is at the core of the novel…the tension between wisdom and aggression is great material and Cannold explores it with a kind of sure vision…The scene of the death of Joshua, as with so much in this book, is beautifully crafted.

The Age

[Cannold’s] first work of fiction is a brilliant imagining of the life of the fiercely intelligent younger sister of Joshua of Nazareth…[I was] intrigued and involved.

Herald on Sunday

The story is narrated by Joshua’s sister, Rachael, in a brisk, engaging and modern voice. The style is easy to read, racing along through a story filled with drama, romance and intrigue. While the writing is spare, Cannold is deft at evoking the dry, humble landscape of her character’s lives, bringing a fresh but spare beauty to her tale. She is also adept at creating characters that live and breathe.

Nina Bourke, Perilous Adventure

One of the strongest aspects of [the] novel is the fraught relationship between Rachael and her mother, Miriame. Far from the saintly Virgin Mary of tradition, Miriame is a waspish-tongued domestic tyrant determined to get her wayward daughter doing what she was born to do: sweep the floor. Yet Rachael comes to the point when she realises Miriame is trying to do her best for her, to prepare her for the strict and unforgiving society she will have to live in. [Says Cannold] “Who wants to pass down these rules? But on the other hand, how can you not?

Jane Sullivan, novelist and journalist. Read more of Sullivan’s profile of author Leslie Cannold

For reader reviews, visit Goodreads

The Book of Rachael is published by Text (2011, ISBN: 978-1-921758-08-92011).

Read the first chapter