Il vangelo secondo Gesù Cristo
It is the story of Jesus Christ, even though (notwithstanding the title) he doesn’t seem to be the narrating voice. It starts from Joseph and Mary as a young couple, focusing on Jesus’s early years, giving little emphasis (and number of pages) to the Passion, which however is described in the opening by discussing a painting that represents it.
A very interesting perspective on this story I’ve heard countless times as a child and young adult. The characters are all human figures, even though later Jesus discovers that he can make miracles. Many points of the Gospel are interpreted in a key that a Catholic would surely consider blasphemy, from the Conception to the nature and motivations of God, to the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. I found puzzling and original the character of the Devil, which is hard to write about after so many books have been written and movies produced about it being good, saint, human, considerate, often loving Man more than God himself: a long and trite list of stereotypes. (I’m looking at you, plethora of clones of The Usual Suspects.)
I don’t think Saramago tried to defame religion (like I don’t think that Rushdie did in his Satanic Verses). Religion is very hard to talk about because of the strong feelings that people attach to it, and it is always an act of profound courage to set out on any discourse about it, let alone write about it in a controversial way, for which I am grateful to the author. I was inevitably anticipating episodes of the narration in my head, anxious to compare the words in the book with the images in my head, and maybe this spoiled it a bit. I wish I had come to the book without knowing the subject, but I think the author knows well that no one can come to this novel without some received opinions, and that it is part of the experience.
Saramago is a pleasure to read. His considerations come from a place so wise and so desperate that it is impossible not to think, in so many places and after so many monologues of his characters: Oh, he is so right about this, and that is so sad and so true. It’s like listening to some very wise man that knows things perfectly well with a perfect explanation, and he gives us mortals the gift of his wisdom.
I put this book between Blindness, which I liked more, and Death with Interruptions, which I liked the least (and maybe wouldn’t even recommend), but the style is there and makes it a piece of art.