19 December 2007

Breathtaking work of literary genius and theological inquiry

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
Jose Saramago
Harvest Books, 1994

In this novel Saramago has created a masterpiece, both in terms of style and content.

The prose is musical, poetically evocative of the streams of consciousness and conversation that fill our lives. While Saramago's paragraphs often run several pages in length, and his idiosyncratic use of punctuation (e.g., his refusal to use quotation marks to delimit speech and his insistence on ending all sentences--including questions--with a period) can seem daunting, the fluid, melodic language makes reading the story a true pleasure.

In terms of content, Saramago has mastered the art of faithfully retelling a story while simultaneously subverting the text through interesting asides, editorial comments, notes to the reader, etc. He also subverts the normal relationship between humanity and God in Christian tradition, wherein humanity is in need of God's forgiveness. In Saramago's retelling, it is the inhumanity of God that is need of humanity's forgiveness. I have often wondered at the needless brutality that lies at the core of mainstream Christian theology (i.e., God needing to have his only child brutally murdered in order to forgive me for being the imperfect being I was created to be), and finally, in Saramago, I have found an author willing to take God to task while not dismissing the sorrowful beauty of the life of Jesus.

(This review was originally written on June 19, 2006.)

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