ONLY HUMAN by Jenny Diski


A Divine Comedy
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The always intriguing Diski (Skating to Antarctica, 1998, etc.) retells the Old Testament of Sarah and Abraham, creating both a moving love story and a postmodern exploration of the idea of narration.

Child of an unnamed concubine and Abraham’s father, Sarah is raised in the respectable house of Shem as a beloved sister. The family consists of prosperous craftsmen, fashioning idols of the various gods worshipped in the city of Ur. Even as a child Sarah loves Abraham, trailing after him in the pesky, devoted custom of a younger sibling. Then, when she’s 13, tragedy strikes: Abraham’s brother desecrates a temple and commits suicide, forcing his shunned family to move through the desert in search of a place that hasn’t heard of their shame. While in the desert the father makes a daring decision: Sarah and Abraham must marry to continue the family line. They have a long, happy union but no children. It is then that God speaks to Abraham, promising the impossible: children through which a nation will be born. Throughout Sarah’s story, the voice of God interrupts—although, as He points out, He is The Word, so there is no narrative that is not His own. These forays into divine elevate a simple revisionist tale to a truly bold exploration of the character of God. The great I AM from which everything comes, God tells of his first mistake, the unforeseen invention of an “us” (Adam and Eve): it’s a mistake that sets Him forever apart from His creation. An “us” doesn’t need an I AM, and the human invention of love, something He never imagined, further alienates master from man and woman. God tries to start over with Noah, but it doesn’t really work, so He then sets His sights on stolid, dutiful Abraham’s love. But there’s a powerful obstacle: the love already existing between a very human “us”—Sarah and Abraham.

Original and thought-provoking.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-28054-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2001


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