Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Hardcover (available in trade), 456 pages, 2002
Reason for Reading: A buzz book; I read Lives of the Saints for a high school English class and enjoyed it.
Synopsis: A fictionalized account of the life of Jesus, told by four people – Yihuda, Miryam, his mother, and Simon, a Syrian shepherd. This isn’t the widely accepted Jesus from the Bible, however – Testament is presented as the ‘true’ story of Jesus, working with the idea that the Bible may be full of misconstrued stories that passed through generations before being written down.
Why you should read this book: An absolutely fascinating story, both for the original biblical ideas and for Ricci’s interpretation and reworking of the story of Jesus. Having the story told from four points of view allows Ricci to work in individual, personal stories from both the followers of Jesus, and his own mother, adding to the vivid characterizations in the novel. The writing is excellent enough that even though the story is more or less familiar, it manages to be filled with intrigue and suspense. The reader is never presented with straightforward good and evil, leaving them to interpret ideas for themselves.
Why you should avoid this book: The first section, told by Yihuda, and the second section, told by Miryam, overlap far too much – you’ll find yourself wishing for Miryam to present different events, rather than just her perspective on the same events that Yihuda recounted.
I first saw him in the winter of that year at En Melakh, a town of a few hundred just north of the Salt Sea. He had come in out of the desert, people said – from the look of him, his blistered face and the way his skin hung from his bones, he’d passed a good while there. He had set himself up now just off the square, squatting in the shade of an old fig tree; I had a good view of him from the porch of the tavern I’d put up in across the way. Some of the townspeople, no doubt taking him for a holy man, dropped bits of food in front of him from time to time, which he accepted with a nod of his head but more often than not couldn’t seem to bring himself to stomach, letting them sit there in the dirt for the flies to collect on or the dogs to snatch away.
In the morning I left Migdal before dawn in order to be in Kefar Nahum when he arrived. Then, not long after sunrise, he appeared in the street outside Shimon’s house with those of the twelve who had slept with him in the open and a band of others following behind. With his retinue he looked like some beggar king, his clothes nearly rags and his hair and beard grown matted and thick. There was hardly more flesh to him than there had been when he had first come to us out of the desert; yet he was not the same man that he’d been then, but changed in a hundred ways I knew but could not quite have named. It seemed he trailed a shadow now that he hadn’t then, which was the shape of all we’d been through, something dark and looming so that he seemed larger and more estimable and more hidden.
I said to Yeshua, A Samaritan shows love for his enemy, and yet not a son for his mother.
If I love you, he said, it does not mean I do your bidding, nor should I leave the many who love me here for the few at home.
You shame me before strangers, I said.
There’s no shame to you if you’re blameless, but only to the one who rejects you, if he does so wrongly.
I said, Does he do so wrongly.
But he would not answer me.
I only know that I must leave behind my old life, he said, and embrace my new one.
Yaqob, who had stood by silently, asked him then, What is your new life if you must reject your brothers and sisters to have it.
But Yeshua said, Who are my brothers and sisters but those who love me and don’t pursue me in the streets for fear I’m mad.
Also recommended: Life of Pi by Yann Martel; The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown; A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.
Also by this author: Lives of the Saints; In a Glass House; Where She Has Gone.
Author’s website: ninoricci.com
Awards: Trillium Award: winner, 2003
Â© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2007