• Current Reads

      Life after Life Jill McCorkle
      This Is Your Captain Speaking Jon Methven
      The Starboard Sea Amber Dermont
      Snark David Denby
      Bring Up the Bodies Hilary Mantel
  • Popular Tags

  • Recent Reflections

  • Categories

  • Moleskine’s All-Time Favorites

  • Echoes

    The HKIA brings Hong… on [788] Island and Peninsula 島與半…
    Adamos on The Master and Margarita:…
    sumithra MAE on D.H. Lawrence’s Why the…
    To Kill a Mockingbir… on [35] To Kill A Mockingbird…
    Deanna Friel on [841] The Price of Salt (Carol…
    Minnie on [367] The Rouge of the North 怨…
  • Reminiscences

  • Blog Stats

    • 1,081,336 hits
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,710 other followers

[294] The Gospel According to Jesus Christ – Jose Saramago

Tribute to Jose Saramago (1922-2010)

I mourn the passing of one of my favorite novelists, Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who died on June 18 at the age of 87. A provocative thinker and inimitable stylist, Saramago often polarized public opinion. His works, which often feature ordinary people in extraordinary situations, will always have a special place in me. Too bad he won’t be like one of his immortal characters in Death with Interruptions. I hereby honor him with a previously unreleased review of his novel.

Saramago deftly embraces historical facts, myth and reality and juggles them in this extraordinarily fictitious account of Jesus Christ. The novel is an in-depth psychological portrait of a savior who possesses a touch of humanity so much more substantial than the Bible claims. Jesus who is at once the Son of God, the beginning and the end, men’s destiny, and a young man of the earth is an interweaving of letters, irony, spirituality, irreverence, humanity, and foible.

The novel hinges on the fact that Jesus’ father, Joseph of Nazareth, out of cowardice and selfishness of the heart, failed to alert the parents that King Herod had issued a decree to kill boys under the age of 3. He could have spared the lives of 27 children had he spoken up. Joseph felt the scruple of running off to save his own son but had forfeited the lives of others. The guilt he felt was exactly guilt a man may feel without having sinned or committed the actual crime himself. It was the sin of omission.

To assuage his remorse that incessantly plagued him, Joseph, as he truly believed he was acting out of his own accord and obeying God’s will, made strenuous effort to beget more and more children to compensate for the 27 lives. When Jesus learned about Joseph’s crime, Jesus felt poignant for his father but asserted that his father was to blame for the deaths of innocent children. Joseph’s sin was illustrated to full actuality as Jesus envisaged infants dying in perfect innocence and parents who had done nothing wrong. Jesus was embittered and broken at the fact that never was a man more guilty than his own father, who had sinned to save his life.

Joseph’s death, which was rather dramatic and undeserving, bore the scruple of his own conscience and arose the question of what awaited him after death. Would it be possible than everything ended with death? What would happen to the life’s sorrow and sufferings, especially the sufferings right before the last breath? What about the memory if time is such an undulating surface than can only be accessed by memory, would memory of such suffering linger at least for a short period of time? Saramago has repeatedly made claims to explore the notion of after-death and its correlation to human existence throughout the novel.

Jesus under Saramago’s pen is not as perfect, impure, and righteous as the Bible portraits him to be. One sees that the savior succumbs to temptation, to not receiving the cup of death, to choose to remain on earth and not to be crowned with glory. The most provocative and controversial aspect of the book is when Jesus intervened the stoning of an adulteress, which brought him to awareness that he was living in sin with Mary Magdalene, and thus living in defiance to God’s will. The sin of adultery (sexual immorality as the Bible claims) brought Jesus into open conflict with the observed law.

The book is not deprived of interesting dialogues in spite of the serious overtones of theology. My favorite is the conversation in which the Devil pleaded with God to admit him into the kingdom. God curtly denied the request asserting than the good God represented would cease to exist without the evil Devil represented. In regard to the meaning of human existence and the pursuit of holiness, Saramago does leave us with an enlightening thought (with such sober dignity) that the soul, in order to be able to boast of a clean and blameless body, has burdened itself with sadness, envy and impurity.

Weekend Reading Mishmash

This weekend is the warmest and most gorgeous one for weeks. The sun beats down on the back of my neck at the usual spot of the coffee shop. I can’t complain about the toasty sun especially this is the last change for sun galore before the onslaught of the rain season. A couple events in the city paralyze the streets so I mostly stay in and read. I have read a lot but not for 24 hours as some bloggers have participated in the 24 Hour Read-a-thon.

I finished The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine about a woman who, for 30 years, has remained faithful to her puppy-love oath to a young man who enlisted to go to war. Loyalty to the absent one means refusal to love anyone else. It’s a short, interesting read and I definitely like some parts of it better than others. Like many women who have lost their husbands and sons to the war, Vera is tricked by fate. I’ll post the review soon.

I’m mistaken that L.P. Hartley is one of the authors featured in Outmoded Author Challenge. Anyway, I have zipped through The Go-Between (with an introduction of a favorite author of mine, Colm Toibin) and am about two thirds through the novel. It’s beautifully written, full of sensuous detail, and Hartley’s perception of his own complex relationship to class and sexuality and memory. A boy who is raised frugally by his widowed mother enters a realm of aristocracy of a schoolmate’s house and becomes bearer of secret letter between two lovers from opposite ends of the class system. I have to get back to the reading as I’m writing this post.

Lastly, I’m almost through with The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, a book that has become a hit around the city as many people have heard the interview on NPR. While human devastation is indelible, the earth demonstrates a tremendous capacity for self-healing. I’m thrilled about how even though humans have exploited the earth, what will eventually heal the planet does not depend on the demise of us. This just shows how tiny humans are, like speck of dust.

Upcoming Project: Compile a list of books to bring with me to Asia. So far I’ve got Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham and The Journal of Dora Damage by Melissa Starling. From the Russian Reading Challenge list I’ll select two books as well. Any suggestion welcome!

[102] The Page Turner – David Leavitt

page.jpgThe book is a bit short for its scope. Or maybe I read it too quickly, started at the gate and finished it during the 5-hour flight to Hawaii.

Paul Porterfield loves to play piano and aspires to have a solo performance at Carnagie Hall. At eighteen, he makes a debut at such a grand venue, except that he’s page-turning for his artistic idol Richard Kennington, a renowned pianist on the cusp of middle age. Their brief encounter at the concert left an indelible mark on Kennington, who during the course of his performance fantasizes about Paul.

Shortly after, on vacation in Rome with his recently divorced mother, Pamela, Paul encounters the pianist a second time. In the absence of his manager and lover Joseph Man sourian, a love affair quickly sparkles between the two, like a violent reaction of a poison, with a demand of sexual passion that leave them both craving and exhausted. Complicated by his own insecurity (whether his fame or personality attracts the young man) and when Pamela misconstrues his attention toward her son as a sign of interest in her, Kennington withdraws to a safer region and flies back to New York.

The novel is not concerned with his characters’ sexual activities, but their human and emotional needs. The entangled relationship between Paul, Kennington, his partner and another man not only explores the question of why people cannot have what they want but also a deeper, more far-fetching question that life sometimes pivots: who do we really want, in life, in career, and in relationship? The characters all seem to live in dreamy illusions that cause them pain.

The Page Turner is an emotionally written novel that depicts a young man’s coming to terms to harsh reality of relationship. It’s hard to know what Leavitt’s message is, apart from the sentimentally obvious. “Don’t have any illusions about pain,” Paul’s piano teacher has told him. “Only a child believes that joy is infinite and suffering is short.” Through the unrequisited love, one might learn to be self-protective, to get on in the world and not expect too much out of love, for it’s unreliable.

[97] A Charmed Circle – Anna Kavan

Reading update: I finished reading and taking notes for The Death of the Heart at the juror room yesterday, before I was summoned at 3 pm. That said, I’m only a book away from the finishing line of the Outmoded Author Challenge.

* * *

Marooned in a country house in an ugly manufacturing town is an old vicarage of which expensive improvements have been undertaken. The house sits in the middle of the town where traffic buzz is accentuated by occasional rumbling of passing trams. So much that it is separated by high walls and trees and is encroached by the hustle-and-bustle, it is a lonely ark itself–or at least the occupants intend it to be. Steered by the father’s morbidly morose, withdrawn and sinister nature, the Deanes immerse in a safe, profound secrecy of those in whom no one is interested.

Life is meticulously edited to ensure minimal interruption of routine and to discourage any social intrusion of visitors. Fettered by some mental disability and limitation are the young Deanes who rebel and struggle to leave. Their attempts have always been futile that they fear the long, dull ache to follow when they have no choice but to return home. Amidst the staidness of the house is an unpleasant atmosphere that always seems to arise so easily and suddenly. That they rarely converge together constitutes this perpetual sense of warfare because hostilities are liable to burst out between family members.

The family reaches a tacit understanding that Beryl, who sets her heart on leaving the house, is held responsible for this hostility that reigns the house. Resolved to break free from all the constraints, she never hesitates to cut to the core the misery of being deprived of freedom. Her ability to assert individuality in defiance of Mrs Deane’s disposition, combined with this imponderable vitality, constantly remind her sister Olive of her being a failure. That her life has been a waster plunges her into an interminable distress of which she blames on Beryl, who in return despises her for being mentally dishonest, salving conscience by trying to talk her mother round a more lenient attitude toward Beryl. The grudge that embitters both of them repulses any overture of reconciliation.

A young sculptor from London lets in a glimpse of light to Beryl’s escape. What amazes her more than the job at an exotic hat shop is their increased intimacy made possible by premeditated meals and meetings. That he feels more than an obligatory sense of responsibility for her–the conscious longing, the dread of her absence–touches on his nerve, for the inimical nature of the Deanes has imparted in him a resolution to keep clear of them. In unconscious defense he begins to frame argument against being with her, for he feels his independence being invaded.

A Charmed Circle is so well-written and penetrating, with a cold snap of a sterile voice that accentuates the hostile mood. The long narrative prose that pierces into the mind reinforces an atmosphere that under a superficial geniality runs a sinister current of tension and repression. It delves on the motives, the unspoken words that which justify the actions. Kavan meticulously metes out words that capture the passing thoughts that are often overlooked but are key to the actions. Despite the overall air of revolt and struggle for self-expression, the novel asserts a sense of hope of overcoming mental capitulation.