BELMARCH by Christopher Davis
Kirkus Star


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A haunting and intense novel set in Central Europe in 1096 in which the author attempts to externalize the horror, grief and agony of mass human slaughter. Belmarch, foot soldier early in the 1st Crusade emerging from a symbolically concealing cellar, struggles from his stupor and shock, and attempts to comprehend his part in the massacre of an entire community of Jews. After passing through the ghastly burial details, the smiles, the averted eyes, Belmarch is confronted by the Jew, Annas. In his tortured visions, the angel withholding blessing has shrunk to nothingness, and in its place is Annas, the divided man -- one half of his mind dealing ironically, without passion, with reality and the other half concealing grief with words of understanding. It was Annas' child Belmarch had killed, and as the two wander away from the scene of the massacre -- Annas sometimes ahead, Belmarch sometimes in the lead -- the roles of tormentor and tormented change again and again, each man laying the charge of isolated humanity before the other. The interdependence grows, through sulphuric visions of orgies; a wizened Archbishop, whose promise to shield the Jews was paralyzed into ineffectuality; treachery; a mad anchoress who cures the maimed hand of Belmarch; and the people who are sick at heart, who smile, who don't care. At the close Belmarch and Annas are drawn back to the scene of the killing, to Belmarch's attempt at suicide, but the Jew has welded his tragedy into the mechanics of survival and steps to prevent the suicide and the stilling of Belmarch's conscience. A firm style projecting brilliantly the vaporous nightmare and striking toward a deep, buried nerve in the human condition.

Publisher: Viking