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QUARANTINE by Jim Crace

QUARANTINE

By Jim Crace

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-23962-2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 Moving from the sea's edge of his last novel, Signals of Distress (1995), to the wind-whipped desert of Judea, England's Crace reconfigures Christ's forty days of temptation in a mesmerizing story of spiritual quest and human failing. Musa the merchant, having fallen ill of a fever while traveling, lies an insensible mountain of flesh in his tent, abandoned by all in his caravan but his pregnant wife, who herself wishes him dead. As she digs his grave, four travelers arrive on foot--followed distantly by a fifth--to occupy nearby caves for a period of ``quarantine'': fasting and prayer in isolation. The four go straight to their refuges, but the fifth, Jesus, comes to Musa's tent for a last sip of water, and miraculously heals his host before sliding down a cliff face to a nearly inaccessible cave, bringing nothing with him but the clothes on his back. The resurrected Musa, sensing a trading opportunity, extracts rent from the others, three men and a woman, for using ``his'' caves, then barters with them daily, tempting them with small delicacies to lessen their discomfort. His main objective, however, is to talk with Jesus, the miracle-worker of whom he has only a feverish memory. But the man won't even come out of His cave despite continual pleading from the cliff above, simply throwing away Musa's enticements of food and water. His silent strength of purpose persuades the others He can do wonders for them all, but after 30 days a great wind arises, flattening Musa's tent just as he's raping the solitary woman in her cave, and the dawn brings even more dreadful news, forcing all but one to pack up and move on. A flawlessly presented tale (shortlisted for the Booker Prize) that opens a window on human aspiration and folly, its revelations full of grit and glory.