An unnamed man leaves the small island where he was born to explore the strange kingdoms beyond his home.
It has to be said that a novel about growing up, faith, redemption and religion is something of a diversion for Benditt, the former editor of MIT’s Technology Review and one of the better-known science writers in the U.S. The story is a poetic but aimless metaphor for…something, although the book’s spare, fable-esque writing often threatens to surpass the messages it tries to deliver. Our nameless hero, known only by the book’s title, is first shown on Small Island, an obscure corner of a larger Christian kingdom where, a thousand years ago, a peasant boy converted the king to Christianity. It’s only when the boatmaker leaves the island that his personal journey begins. On a larger island, he struggles with drink, has a strangely combative affair with an innkeeper and falls in with a pair of malcontents named Kravenik and Weiss, better known as Crow and White. After his so-called friends assault and rob him, he moves on to the mainland a changed man. There, he falls under the spell of Father Robert, a charismatic and faintly cultlike priest who believes the boatmaker will be the redeemer for “The New Christ.” Father Robert is also determined to undermine the House of Lippsted, a Jewish dynasty whose wealth has earned them the power to undermine the king. Running away once more, the boatmaker becomes a carpenter for the House of Lippsted, where he falls under the spell of one of the family’s beautiful daughters. Benditt has a unique voice and obviously has something to say about religion, history and manhood, but the novel’s abstraction and circularity could well make coming along on the boatmaker’s journey feel more like a trek than an arc.
A long, fuzzy journey just to learn we can’t go home again.