Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wangerin's, Jesus A Novel ~ reviewed

Jesus: A Novel
Walter Wangerin, Jr.
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Zondervan (November 1, 2005)
ISBN: 0310266734

Book Description:

“Here, in vivid language and rich historical detail, is the most important story of the Christian faith—the life of Jesus, presented in the form of a literary novel.”

Reviewed by Robin Johns Grant

This retelling of the life of Christ does not stray far from the Biblical accounts. Most scenes will seem familiar (Jesus healing the paralytic who is lowered through the roof of a home where he is teaching; Jesus calming the storm and walking on water; Jesus being tempted in the desert). Most of the words spoken by Jesus could be found in the Gospels. And yet, Wangerin has told this familiar story in a way that is altogether unique.

This author's prose is poetic and literary, setting a realistic picture of the time, though on occassion characters will say, "Okay," or "you big dope," or something that jerked me back into this century.

The events of Jesus’s life from boyhood to crucifixion and resurrection are seen through the eyes of two people close to him—his mother, Mary, and “the Beloved,” who is gradually revealed to be the disciple, John.

The novel opens with the familiar story of Jesus as a boy, accidentally left behind in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph start for home. As a determined Mary confronts priests, soldiers, and anyone else who might stand between her and her lost child, it is apparent this is not the doe-eyed, saintly woman of Madonna portraits. This Mary is earthy and very human, a passionate fireball of a woman, that the mild-mannered Joseph isn’t quite sure how to handle.

And Mary is never quite certain how to handle this miraculous son she has been granted. Jesus is the center of her life, and yet she can’t fully grasp his mission.

After Joseph’s death, Mary travels with Jesus along with other followers, but their relationship is strained. Mary longs to be a mother to her son, to scold him and advise him and try to keep him safe. She’s frustrated that her “Yeshi” now belongs to all these others as much as to her, and that Jesus is so aloof, apparently intent on marching headlong to his destruction. There is a constant tension between the down-to-earth, practical Mary and the divinity of this man who was once her baby.

One of the most poignant scenes occurs when Jesus and the others receive word of the death of John the Baptist. Jesus retreats into the wilderness, but Mary seeks him out, knowing how he loved his cousin. At first he has little to say to her, as usual, but then Mary comforts him, and Jesus tells her a sort of parable that indirectly tells his mother how important she has been to him all along.

The book’s other narrator, the Beloved, is important mainly for the portrait he gives of other events and characters in Jesus’s life. For example, he draws an intriguing picture of Judas as a gawky, rash youth who thinks he is following Jesus but completely misunderstands his mission.

Wangerin’s prose ranges from poetic and striking to comic. In describing Christ’s passion and the turmoil of the Lord’s mother and followers after his execution, he is at his most powerful. This novel will leave you with characters and images that are not soon forgotten.

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