Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Culture

Following Another Through Grief

At several points in the novel “A Song I Knew by Heart,” author Bret Lott refers to a character straining under the sheer effort of putting a feeling into a few words — “the work of it,” he writes. The story, which is a modern retelling of the biblical Ruth and Naomi narrative, might as well be called “the work of it,” because of its focus on the painful but purposeful process of grieving.

The novel has the bare bones of the biblical story: Naomi’s husband has died in the home they established, far from where they were born. As the novel opens, her son, Mahlon, also has just died, leaving her daughter-in-law Ruth a widow. When Naomi decides to return to the land of her birth — in this case, the American South — Ruth follows her. But unlike the biblical version, which dispatches with the deaths in a matter of sentences, the novel is a full meditation on loss, with grief treated like something that rolls out slowly, like the long journey home that Ruth and Naomi bravely make together.

The story is about rebuilding and redemption, both literally and figuratively. Curiously — though Naomi is a life-long, if struggling, Christian — the novel does not mention any consciousness of the Book of Ruth in its many religious references. In Lott’s world, the emptiness that Naomi faces is reflected even in the absence of a biblical story that might have provided her some comfort. Luckily — and to the surprise of Naomi and Ruth — comfort, and even God, will find them and bring them both home.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.