Saramago's ingenious fictionalised account of the life of Jesus
Jose Saramago is one of the most important international writers of the last hundred years. Born in Portugal in 1922, he was in his sixties when he came to prominence as a writer with the publication of Baltasar and Blimunda. A huge body of work followed, translated into more than forty languages, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Saramago died in June 2010.
This thoughtful, provocative study of Jesus' self-understanding as both son of God and an all-too-human family member caused debate in the Portuguese parliament and is likely to generate discussion here. Saramago reveals a deep knowledge of scripture, theology, and Christian history, but his true gift may lie in evoking the physical world. Christian writers have often downplayed the earthier aspects of the Incarnation, but here Jesus is ``identified as a shepherd by the smell of goat.'' God says that it is ``dissatisfaction, one of the qualities which make man in My image and likeness,'' which led him to desire a son on Earth. ``There will be a church,'' God tells Jesus, giving a lengthy martyrology as evidence. Jesus dies as do many of us, lamenting ``a life planned for death from the very beginning.'' For serious religious collections.-- Kathleen Norris, Lemmon P.L., S.D.
Like other earthy fictionalized accounts of the life of Jesus, this loose interpretation of the Gospel provoked an outcry: published in the author's native Portugal, it was subsequently withdrawn from consideration for the 1992 European Literature Prize. Saramago ( The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis ) explores the psychological motivations that led Jesus to become a prophet. Joseph overhears a conversation that allows him to save his fledgling family from the slaughter of the innocents. Because he lacks the courage to warn others in Bethlehem, God turns him into a spiritual pariah and, as part of God's justice, he is mistakenly crucified. Tormented by his earthly father's guilt, Jesus leaves his family, wanders around in the wilderness with a freethinking Devil, is told of his destiny by God, performs some miracles and, in a fast summing up, ends up dead. Saramago, who takes some pointed digs at both the Catholic church and monotheism generally, seems too uneasy with his material to enjoy his tongue-in-cheek portrait. The work is frequently static and halfhearted, a far cry from the riveting passages of the New Testament, and though often amusing (his conversations between Jesus, God and the Devil may remind Anatole France aficionados of Revolt of the Angels ), the work never achieves the irony the author seems to have intended. (Jan.)
"Profound and poignant" * Independent *
"An original, wild and beautiful book" * Times Literary Supplement *