Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

Andi Alpers (her full name is Diandra Xenia Alpers) is a student at St. Anselm’s, a prestigious private school in Brooklyn where tuition is thirty thousand dollars annually. She is in her senior year. The students see themselves as special, exceptional: “We’re supernovas, every single one of us.”

They talk like this: “…you can’t even approach Flock of Seagulls without getting caught up in the metafictive paradigm,” somebody says.
And “Plastic Bertrand can, I think, best be understood as a postironic nihilist referentialist.”
And “But, like, New Wave derived meaning from its own meaninglessness. Dude, the tautology was so intended.”

Andi plays guitar, wears a silver key around her neck on a red ribbon which is not to be touched – we learn this in the early pages. She also wears several skull rings. Her best friend in Vijay Gupta, “President of the Honor Society, the debate team, the Chess Club and the Model United Nations. Volunteer at a soup kitchen, a literacy center, and the ASPCA. Davidson Fellow, Presidential Scholar candidate, winner of a Princeton University poetry prize…” Andi thinks Vijay sees he as “some kind of rehabilitation project, like the loser dogs he cars for at the shelter.”

When winter break begins Andi has not turned in any college applications nor has she submitted the outline for her senior thesis. She has chosen a subject for her thesis: “an eighteenth-century French composer, Amadé Malherbeau…one of the first Classical period composers to write predominantly for guitar.” The headmistress has sent letters home,one to each of her parents. Andi’s father doesn’t open his mail and her mother is not well.

Her response to the headmistress is: “…I just don’t see it happening, Ms. Beezemyer, you know? The senior thesis. Not really. Can’t I just get my diploma in June and go?”

Andi knows completing the thesis to a satisfactory level is a condition of earning her diploma but she doesn’t care. The headmistress expresses sympathy because she understands Andi’s situation but she names Andi’s brother Truman and this is intolerable for Andi.

“The rage is there again, rising higher, and I can’t stop it.”

“It’s not about me. It’s about you,” I tell her. “It’s about the numbers. If two seniors got into Princeton last year, you want four in this year. That’s how it is here and we all know it. Nobody’s paying tuition that equals the annual median salary in the state of New Hampshire so their kid can go to a crap school. Parents want Harvard, MIT, Brown. Julliard looks good for you. For you, Ms. Beezemeyer, not me. That’s what this is about.”

Beezie looks like she’s been slapped. My God, Andi,” she says. “You couldn’t have been more hurtful if you tried.”

“I did try.”

So now you know Andi. Then you meet her mother who spends almost all her waking moments trying to draw Truman, Andi’s brother, but not being able to get the eyes right. And then we learn the story of the key Andi wears and its relationship to Truman and Andi and their father.And we learn that Andi is taking a medication called Qwellify which is supposed to control her anger,her sadness, her suicidal urges but which is losing its effectiveness.

Then her father decides to take Andi with him to Paris over winter break and she is to complete the thesis outline there. Andi goes only because she thinks it will be worse for her to stay.

They stay with her father’s friend Guillaume Lenôtre and his wife Lili who live in an old furniture factory full to bursting with artifacts of the French Revolution. The factory was located in the workers quarters which were the “heart of the Revolution”. Lili knew Andi’s mother : they were roommates at the Sorbonne.

The artifacts in Guillaume’s old factory (residence is on the upper floor) include things like Revolution“marble busts, a stuffed monkey, a wax mannequin, a collection of muskets standing upright in an old barrel, and a huge clock face. I see a wreath made of hair, painted tea chests, shop signs, glass eyeballs, and a cardboard box tied with a ribbon. Last Letters of the Condemned, 1793 is written on it in old-fashioned script. I open the box and carefully lift a letter out. The paper is brittle. The handwriting is hard to read. So is the old French.
Farewell, my wife and children, forever and ever. Love my children, I beg you, tell them often what i was, love them for both of us. …I end my days today…
I pick up another: My last linen is dirty, my stockings are rotting, my breeches are threadbare. I’m dying of hunger and boredom…I shall not write to you anymore, the world is execrable. Farewell!
And a third: I do not know, my little friend, if it will be given to me to see you or to write to you again. Remember your mother…Farewell, beloved child…The time will come when you will be able to judge the effort that I am making at the moment not to be moved to tears at the memory of you. I press you to my heart. Farewell…
God, what a bummer. I can’t read any more so I put the letters back, close the box, and keep poking around.There’s a toy guillotine on the floor, complete with executioner, victim, and victim’s papier-mâché head staring up in shock from a tiny willow basket. ” The list goes on.

Andi trips over a long wooden case, “the kind that guitars come in.” In the case she finds “the most beautiful guitar I’ve ever seen. It’s made of rosewood and spruce with an ebony fingerboard. The rosette and the purfling at the edges are inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ivory and silver. Guillaume explains that it is a Vinaccia, made in Italy in the late seventeen hundreds, very rare and very expensive. He bought it thirty years ago from a “man who found it in the catacombs. A worker. There was a cave-in in one of the tunnels.”  The guitar was apparently lying under some skeletons, “Headless ones. Which suggests the Terror. You would think the whole thing would be ruined – lying underground for over two centuries – but no. Perhaps the cool air preserved it.” He encourages Andi to play it.

Have you heard of the catacombs under the city of Paris? Join Andi in an amazing journey to the time of the French Revolution while she gets first hand information on her senior thesis subject and meets Alexandrine Paradis,  a seventeen year old  who tried to save Marie Antoinette’s son. The two time periods are linked almost seamlessly and the story is extremely compelling.

 

The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray

The subtitle about sums up this reading adventure in equal parts (A Maid, Her Master and the Trial that Shocked a Nation) with perhaps just a little more about the trial and its effect upon the country than about the maid or about her master but it all adds up to a very entertaining read and an extremely informative one historically. I found it very compelling but would be the first to admit that readers who are not strongly interested in Canadian history particularly in the early twentieth century or in famous families might not be quite as enthralled as I was.

The Preface gets right to the deed which occurred “on a gloomy February evening in 1915” when Massey Murdera gunshot was heard on Walmer Road in Toronto. Carrie Davies, a domestic servant worked in the home of Bert Massey and shot him as he approached his front door on his return from work (he was a salesman of Studebaker automobiles).

The author, Charlotte Gray, explains in the Preface that if Carrie Davies had not “run afoul of the law” we would never have heard of her. “There were no letters, journals, notes, or diaries”.  Gray’s sources were limited she writes: “I had to rely on the official report of the coroner’s inquest, plus newspaper articles.” Fortunately, the daily coverage of the murder was “detailed and vivid”. She also explains that “different newspapers gave radically different accounts” of the murder and this added to the fascination of the case I found.

Gray provides an exceptionally detailed account of the growth and character of major newspapers in the Toronto area at the time of the crime and this in itself is worth the read.

The author’s opening comments must be kept in mind while reading: “I have had to use all the conventions of narrative non-fiction to bring this silent witness to life. I imagine but I do not invent. I do not fabricate characters, events, or dialogue – anything in quotation marks comes from a written source. Physical descriptions, of people and buildings, come from photographic evidence. However, I speculate and interpret, based on empirical evidence and knowledge of common practice and human behaviour. I do so cautiously and only when I am confident that I am more likely to be right than wrong. In the words of historian Modris Eksteins, “For facts to become memorable, an element of fiction [is] essential.” ”

As Gray puts it,…”sometimes, that element is the only way to understand what it was like to actually be there, as the ordered world crumbled and war broke the old vision.”

Carrie’s lawyer was the canny Hartley Dewart who made full use of the currents of “militarism, imperialism, feminism and nascent nationalism” to build a case even though Carrie herself “probably knew nothing about them” as forces in her world.

A “List of Characters” is provided for the reader and is interesting to browse as well as for keeping the participants straight. I found it impressive to find Constable Mary Minty, Toronto’s first female police constable on the list along with Mrs. Sinclair, superintendent of Women’s Department, Don Jail as well as Florence Gooderham Hamilton Huestis, president of the Toronto Local Council of Women. There is a list of witnesses, lawyers, newspapers, officers of the court, and, of course, a list of the Massey Family members. The latter list includes Vincent Massey who was 27 at the time and who became Canada’s eighteenth Governor General and served from Feb 18, 1952 to September 15, 1959. He made a “successful transition”…”away from the occupants (of the office) who had been both members of the peerage and born overseas.” He was in office during my high school years and so I was interested to find him in this book: he was a cousin of the murdered man, Charles Albert “Bert” Massey.

Here is a link  to several actual items from newspapers of the time. The link also contains a photograph of the house on Walmer Road where the shooting occurred. “Bert lived in the Annex, the area between Bloor and Dupont, west of Avenue Road, that had been developed over the previous three decades as Toronto’s population exploded and streetcars allowed middle-class residents to live further away from their workplaces.” Albert and Rhoda Massey lived on the shabbier end of Walmer Road near Dupont.

“Bert’s job as a Studebaker salesman gave him a certain social flash” but “he sold on commission, and with a war on, sales had slumped.” The day of the event in question had “been particularly exhausting”; his wife Rhoda was away and “he had barely bothered to sweep the snow off the sidewalk.
Before Bert Massey reached home, he met Ernest Pelletier, the sixteen-year-old paper boy who had just delivered a copy of the Toronto Daily Star to the Massey house. Massey flashed his most charming smile as he pulled out a quarter to pay for delivery of the Star for the previous month.”

“Bert Massey turned off the sidewalk towards his front door. He had no idea what awaited him.”

Charlotte Gray’s work includes several biographies. I want to read Flint & Feather next. How about you?

 

The Liar’s Gospel by Naomi Alderman

“They knew it would be that day. It is impossible to follow the fortunes of a battle closely without knowing when they are reaching their conclusion. Especially when that battle concerns the city in which you live.
They had fought off the army as long as they were able. They had the advantage, to begin with: the walls were high, the ramparts thick. As the army worked below, filling the ravine with boulders and felled trees, they hurled down rocks and arrows upon them. They worked in shifts, night and day, pulling the matter out of the moat by the cellar doors as quickly as it was placed there. They struggled. But they were undone by God.
…They had known it must come and yet had not believed it until they saw. The impregnable wall was breached. Then there were cries. Bring men, bring fire, bring swords, keep the invaders back!
…The Romans swept through the sanctuary so quickly that they themselves seemed surprised, even alarmed, at how easily the thing had been done.”

“…Pompey motioned his men to lower their weapons.
…The centurion drew his sword, grabbed the priest’s chin, pulling it up and back, and slit the man’s throat.”

“…This had been the last offering made by a free man in the Temple.”

The High Priest was replaced by Pompey’s friend: “a Jewish prince who had been most cooperative during the siege and whose men had fought for Rome. It was a fitting gift for a loyal ally. This business concluded, Pompey left a garrison at Jerusalem and headed back to Rome in triumph.
This was how it happened. And everything that came afterwards followed from this.”

The rest of the book is divided into four sections and an Epilogue. The four sections are titled Miryam (mother of Yehoshuah/Jesus), Iehuda from Qeriot (Judas Iscariot), Caiphas (High Priest at the time of the crucifixion) and Bar-Avo (Barabbas).

Miryam’s viewpoint is presented through interaction with a young man named Gidon from Liar's GospelYaffo who has come to Natzaret in search of the village of Yehoshuah the Teacher, “to find his friends and family here, to meet them and to befriend them.” Miryam replies to this with “He was a traitor, a rabble-leader, a rebel, a liar and a pretender to the throne. We have tried to forget him here.” But Gidon has re-opened Miryam’s memories of her son:

“She remembers the screaming trees that night.
She thinks of them many days, and of what happens to those who  challenge and fight and argue. And how little this boy seems to understand of where the words will lead.
She remembers the screaming trees and  she thinks: if she can bear not to speak to him, it will be better for him. But she knows she does not have that strength.”

Thus Gidon becomes the means through which Miryam’s relationship with her son Yehoshua is conveyed to the reader. She tells him that if he wants to learn there are better teachers to be found than herself but he replies that he has already sought out a teacher and that teacher cannot teach him anymore. And so “she teaches him what she had learned when her parents took her to hear the great Rabbi Hillel speak, that our duty to love each other is the highest of all the commandments of God. That our duty of charity extends even to our own bodies, and we must care for them because our souls are guests in them.”

She asks Gidon, “Who are your people?”
He says, “My family are those who believe what I believe.”

“She has heard of such groups. The Essenes are one –  they live together and follow the same customs although they are not kin – and there are other small groups, those who follow the same principles or who gather around a teacher.
“Amd where are they?” she says, because she thinks he will say that it is agroup who live in the caves, or in the desert, or in the wooded hills near Juerusalem.
“We are scattered,” he says. “Now we who followed your son Yehoshuah are wandering. Teaching. We are spreading his words.”

And so, through Miryam and Gidon the reader gets a sense of life in Yehoshua’s village immediately after Yehoshua’s death. The events in Jerusalem at the time of his death are also revisited through Miryam’s experiences/memories. This would be particularly interesting to anyone who has read Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary (see archives for April 2014).

The other three sections are every bit as interesting and informative as the section on Miryam. In the market place Iehuda (Judas) overhears strangers discussing what has happened to Yehoshua’s followers. “At one point she implies that some of her friends here in Caesarea send and receive letters from dispersed disciples. He has heard that there are rebels here, still – Caesarea is a Roman town, the capital of the region, a waypoint for trade, so a good place for all kinds of conspiracy. But it is a mark of how little they accomplished that it is not dangerous for her to mention Yehoshua in the market square. No one is afraid of those who followed him.” Iehuda even hears himself and his own death discussed : “”He threw himself from a rocky cliff onto a field of stones.” He thinks about what he has heard and considers contacting his old friends and explaining his actions (he led the Romans to Yehoshua and identified him for them). He recalls his relationship with Yehoshua: “There had been others travelling with Yehoshua before Iehuda arrived, but Iehuda knew that he was special to him. Yehoshua could tell him things the others could not understand.”

The sections on Caiaphas and Bar-Avo were particularly interesting as I had not read any other literary attempts to present them. Caiphas has what he sees as more important concerns to deal with such as the threat to temple finances from the Romans who want money for an aqueduct. Caiphas recalls seeing Yehoshua on three occasions and he had concluded that “the man is entirely mad, but it may still be possible to save him.” Witnesses shouted that Yehoshua had spoken against the Temple and had called himself the Messiah, the rightful king. “Under Rome, there is no king but the Emperor and those whom it pleases the Emperor to set on little thrones for a time.” The situation is presented that if he had only remained silent the case would have been dismissed. Even then he might have been saved but Pilate got wind of what was happening and Caiaphas had to hand Yehosua over to Rome’s judgment. Yehoshua was executed and Bar-Avo was released. Another fascinating chapter of the story.

Th author writes this in her acknowledgments: “…after I had finished researching this novel my mother, Marion, happened to find her father’s Victorian copies of Josephus. Eliezer Freed, my grandfather, who died when I was two years old, was a novelist and a short-story writer, fluent in ancient languages, a self-taught musician, inventor and scholar. I flicked through his Josephus with mild curiosity about differences in translation. And there, in his own handwriting, I found that my grandfather had marked up precisely the passages that I had been looking at: the ones about Jesus. He had the same question mark in the margin, the same part bracketed where we both, I imagine, made the same frown at the same moment.”

And this from the author’s Epilogue: “Storytellers know that people enjoy tales that explain to them the origin of things, the way things come to be the way they are. This story is no different. Every story has an author, some teller of lies. Do not imagine that a storyteller is unaware of the effect of every word she chooses. Do not suppose for a moment that an impartial observer exists.”

Also from the Epilogue: “Storytellers know that every story as at least partly a lie. Every story could be told in four different ways, or forty or four thousand. Every emphasis or omission is a kind of lie, shaping a moment to make a point. So when, between thirty-five and seventy years after Yehoshua’s death, Mark and then Matthew and then Luke the complier and then John the theologian came to tell their stories it was as well for them to exonerate the Romans who ruled the empire they lived in, and to blame the Jews, whose wickedness had clearly caused the destruction of their holy city…nothing happened without a reason.”

This story’s author may or may not be impartial but she certainly offers a very credible explanation of how some things came to be the way they are. Highly recommended to those interested in another version of this event and time.

On the Proper Use of Stars by Dominique Fortier

Originally published in Quebec in 2008, I read the 2010 edition translated into English by Sheila Fischman.

There are three noteworthy epigraphs:On the Proer Use of Stars

“Sail, sail adventurous Barks! Go fearless forth,
Storm on his glacier-seat the misty North,
Give to mankind the inhospitable zone,
And Britain’s trident plant in seas unknown. ”
– Eleanor Porden

“The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have, in every
respect, provided most liberally for the comforts of the
officers and men of an expedition which may, with the
facilities of the screw-propeller, and other advantages of
modern science, be attended with great results.”

– The Times, May 12th, 1845

“You are mad and I am blind;
Tell me, who will take us home?”    – Jalal Ud Din Rumi

“The sun was shining on that 19th day of May in 1845, when the Erebus and the Terror were preparing to cast off at Greenhithe, their reflections shivering in the greenish water of the port where floated garlands, handfuls of rice, and small dead fish.A crowd of a John Franklingood ten thousand was assembled on the docks to witness the departure of Sir John Franklin, hero of the Arctic, who was setting off once again to conquer the mythic Northwest Passage, as always for the greater glory of the Empire. On the deck of the Erebus, in full regalia, the explorer was holding aloft a coloured handkerchief so that his wife Jane, Lady Franklin, could easily make him out in the midst of his inferiors, who were waving handkerchiefs of black silk.”

The story is told using journal entries made by John Franklin and Francis Crozier, second-in-command of the expedition juxtaposed with accounts of what Jane Franklin was doing either on her own travels or at home and also the details of some of the activities of her niece Sophia, her sister Fanny and her step-daughter Eleanor. There are also letters that provide considerable background information such as the “Instructions from Sir John Barrow (second secretary to the Admiralty) to Sir John Franklin complete with latitude and longitude readings.

 

ErebusAn early log entry by Sir John reads: “Terror and Erebus weighed anchor in the Port of Greenhithe on 20 May for a Journey undertaken by order of the Admiralty with the objective of discovering and navigating a Passage leading from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.  129 men on board 2 Ships. The pages that follow are the Ship’s Log of Captain John Franklin, Commander in Chief of the Expedition.”

Sir John “had discussed at length with his wife the contents of this logbook, which would in all likelihood become a valuable document for geographers, seamen, merchants, servicemen, and scientists of the day, as well as for posterity. He had agreed with Lady Jane that he would use a concise style and content himself with delivering factual information as precisely as possible. …Lady Jane would take what he had written and polish it sentence by sentence, as she was accustomed to doing for all the documents her husband composed, and, with his consent, she would breathe new life into them and give them the scope by which one can recognize the accounts by the great discoverers.”

Fortier further humanizes the story for us with details about various crew members: Crozier gave classes in the common room  and one fellow “asked to be taught to read”…”others were curious to learn the principles of physics, optics, the laws of astronomy and magnetism _ subjects on which Crozier enjoyed holing forth. Others still spent those few hours consulting the technical and scientific works that had been brought on board in their hundreds. But oddly enough, it was the novels and books of poems that enjoyed the greatest success.”  The Vicar of Wakefield and the poems of Lord Tennyson (a nephew of Sir John Franklin) were among the most popular books. “One seaman showed an unexpected talent for caligraphy; another was able to solve equations with a number of unknowns without the help of pen and paper; a cook’s helper discovered a passion for magnetism, a science for which he had something of a gift, as Crozier discovered when he was setting out the basic principles to a small group.” The latter young man turned out to be Adam Tuesday (he was found on a Tuesday on the steps of the orphanage where he had been abandoned). Crozier learned from Adam that he had read all the books on board on magnetism and also the Sonnets of William Shakespeare which he “particularly liked.” Details such as this made the characters come alive.

Also included is a description of John Franklin’s first marriage to Eleanor Anne Porden whom Jane met when Eleanor was twenty-three. Eleanor was a poet and Jane found her choice of Franklin as a husband disappointing but changed her mind about this later when she discovered that “John Franklin was prepared to learn, to change, to improve himself. All that was needed was a firm hand to guide him.” Jane married John Franklin after “Eleanor died following a lingering consumption.”

And what of “the proper use of stars”?

Stars receive at least two major mentions in the book: in Tasmania where Sophia first meets Francis Crozier and John Ross who were on an expedition to Antarctica, she has a discussion about stars with each of the two captains. After dancing with John Ross she asks him if he knows all the stars and he replies that he knows “the sailors’ stars” and that he “know[s] the stories less than their usefulness for navigators when it is time to take one’s bearings”.  “Sophia sighed in the face of such dull pragmatism. They were alone beneath a sky that could have been studded with diamonds…and here she was with this deuced Captain who could only talk about navigation.” Shortly afterwards, Crozier comes upon her at the ship’s rail and when he comments on the fact that she might prefer to be alone she replies: “No, no, stay, it’s fine. You can no doubt teach me a great many fascinating things about the proper use of stars in navigation.” Crozier thinks and says that he has been too “blunt” and apologizes and tries again. They have a very different conversation in which he discovers for her a new constellation by pointing to eight stars and then”by drawing an S in the middle of the sky that appeared, after being designated, to shine with a more brilliant light.” Pragmatism vs. romanticism?

A second mention of stars comes a few pages later when a crewman named Thomas observes that there are more stars to be seen from the deck of the expedition’s ships than he had ever seen at home. He believes this to be because there are no other lights to outshine the stars and dim their brilliance. One can’t help but think about how that applies to our modern urban skies. Then he sees the Aurora borealis which “seems to confirm for him that the place where he is, is at once at the end and the dawn of the world.”

The fate of the Franklin expedition of 1845 may or may not be known to you. I would highly recommend that you not do any research in advance as it will all become quite clear quickly in this relatively short novel. I find that it has inspired me to do more research and I am particularly looking forward to some additional reading on Lady Jane Franklin. I have had a book on my shelf for a few years now by Canadian writer Ken McGoogan: Lady Franklin’s Revenge. This book is sub-titled A True Story of Ambition, Obsession and the Remaking of Arctic History. With the reading of On the Proper Use of Stars it has made a quantum leap to the top of my To Be Read list thus illustrating one of the greatest rewards of reading : it leads to more reading. Enjoy!

 

Quarantine by Jim Crace

Quarantine was the winner of the Whitbread Novel of the Year in 1998 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is fiction based on Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.

I have read no other works by Crace and this was an “accidental” choice to the degree that it was being read by an online group which reads only Booker winners and nominees and I monitor that group to expand my own reading options. Another inspiration for reading Quarantine was a reading several years ago of Nino Ricci’s Testament, also about Jesus. I now think I must reread that novel.

QuarantineThere have been many reviews and papers written about Quarantine. After I had begun the reading I did look up one or two to find encouragement because Quarantine is not without challenge.

Crace apparently wrote an introduction to the novel especially for American readers to explain why he wrote it and how it effected his religious position. He anticipated that his novel might deeply disturb some Christians but in the introduction he writes: “…I found that Quarantine had been received by many British readers as a spiritual and scriptural text, an enrichment rather than a challenge to their faith. ” To those who questioned that he could have written the book, he countered: “They do not understand that books have agendas of their own, no matter what the author may believe. Novels and their writers are not mere mirror images. It’s the imp of story-telling at our shoulders, not the Grace of God.” He also admits that “nobody could spend two years writing such a book and remain undisturbed by it”.  Anyone interested can find much more about the novel easily.

The characters, including Jesus, in Quarantine are richly imagined and presented. Musa the merchant and his wife Miri who were travelling with a larger family group have been left on the desert because Musa was dying of a fever and the caravan had to move on to markets. Musa had his tent and a large share of the trading goods the caravan had been conveying. The reader meets these two first and quickly becomes aware of the state of the relationship of their marriage. Miri is setting about digging a grave for her husband’s body. Gradually the other characters come forward: they are coming to participate in a quarantine which word refers to a period of forty days, usually for the purpose of purification or enlightenment. Our modern definition refers to the isolation of the contagious sick in order to protect others. There are many references to sickness in the novel beginning with Musa’s fever, then various states of depression and also the badhu’s unusual mental affliction.

Musa is the first to have contact with Jesus who is referred to from then on as “the Gally” because he comes from Gallilee. He wanders into Musa’s tent where he is dying of fever and touches him and gives him water. Then he wanders off again searching accommodation for himself for the forty days ahead. Miri is off trying to dig a grave for Musa because she knows she will have to bury him the next day.

The other “quarantiners” include :

Aphas, an elderly Jew who “hoped to make peace with his god, and with himself, of course. …but most of all he hoped for miracles”; he had a large growth on his side;

Marta a middle-aged woman who desperately wants a child to please her husband, …”after ten years of barrenness a man could take another wife” according to the law and he would have to turn Marta out and find another wife;

Shim came from the north and “knew some Aramaic and some Greek” and “was no Jew” he said although his grandfather had been a Jew; he said he “was seeking something that he could not name” and that his god “was immanent in everything…He will absorb us when we die; he was looking for something like tranquility he said that was “not so easy to acquire”;

the badu sat on his heels and rocked like a crib “twisting his hennaed hair between his fingers, and ready to spring up. He was too small and catlike, with far too many bracelets on his arm” but there “was something devilish and immature about his face”;

Jesus “was a man who had been a simple-hearted child, much loved and loving, nervous and obedient; quick to listen, happy to believe whatever he was told; observant in his prayers and rituals. Unremarkable, in fact. Except in this: by the time he was thirteen or so, he was the only one among his friends who behaved as if the customs and routines of their religion were anything more than tiresome duties. He was the only adolescent in the neighbourhood who demanded more from god than festivals and regimens and rules. He loved his prayers like a child. …his devotions did not make him mild and fat. He was as skittish, pale and narrow-shouldered as a goose. The neighbours called him Gally, a common nickname for a Galilean boy whose accent was strong, but ideal for Jesus. He was like a gally fly. He could not rest.”

If you like fictional biography, have a strong curiosity about biblical personages,  are drawn to something a little different and enjoy very creative writing, there is a good chance you will like this book.