This is a skeptic’s journey into the meaning of God and of human existence. At once an ironic rendering of the life of Christ and a beautiful novel, Saramago’s tale has sparked intense discussion about the meaning of Christianity and the Church as an institution. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero.
Now making its US debut, a novel from noted Portuguese writer Saramago (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, 1990) thatdespite its provocative conclusions and sometimes irreverent toneis a profoundly different but no less significant life of Christ. Here, the Christian story is told from the point of view of Jesus, a young man very much of his time and place in spite of his great destiny. And it is this emphasis on Jesus's appreciation for the ordinary joys and virtues of human lifesexual love, family, nature, friendship, honorthat make the conflict between the desires of God, here indeed His father, and what He himself perceives to be earthly virtues, so tragic. All the familiar storiesthe Annunciation, the Slaughter of the Innocents, the Miracles, and the Crucifixionare related with a nod to postmodern sensibilities, but they're secondary to Saramago's main purposeto suggest that Jesus had to live and die as much for the benefit of God as for the Devil, both of whom appear in person. Saramago's God, who resembles a successful CEO, wants to use Jesus and the church He will found to expand His dominions; and when Jesus wants to know, "How much death and suffering Your victory over other gods will cause?" God answers with a long list of martyrs, wars of faith, and institutions like the Inquisition. Even the Devil, an ambivalent figure who often intervenes positively in Jesus's life, is moved to repentance, but God rejects his offer: "Because I cannot exist without the evil you represent. Unless the Devil is the Devil, God cannot be God." Jesus goes on to His destiny, but with a caveat: in the hope of averting the bloodshed implicit inthe founding of Christianity, he asks to be crucified as King of the Jews, not as the Son of God. Fiction that engages the mind as much as the spirit as, in eloquently supple prose, it seeks to understand faith.