A wry, fictional account of the life of Christ by Nobel laureate José Saramago
A brilliant skeptic, José Saramago envisions the life of Jesus Christ and the story of his Passion as things of this earth: A child crying, the caress of a woman half asleep, the bleat of a goat, a prayer uttered in the grayish morning light. His idea of the Holy Family reflects the real complexities of any family, and—as only Saramago can—he imagines them with tinges of vision, dream, and omen.
The result is a deft psychological portrait that moves between poetry and irony, spirituality and irreverence of a savior who is at once the Son of God and a young man. In this provocative, tender novel, the subject of wide critical discussion and wonder, Saramago questions the meaning of God, the foundations of the Church, and human existence itself.
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loose interpretation of the Gospel provoked an outcry: published in the author's native Portugal, it was subsequently withdrawn from consideration for the 1992 European Literature Prize.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.