A debut historical novel imagines Jesus’ youthful desire for spiritual enlightenment.
As a young boy in Galilee, Yeshua is precociously interested in religious study and implacably desires to devote his life to it. And while he is obedient to the laws of his faith, he’s also disturbed by their apparent contradictions and exclusion of many from God’s protective love. His father, however, interprets his philosophical curiosity as impudence and his aspirations as fanciful fits of vanity; he is a carpenter, and Yeshua is destined to become one as well. Zoroastrian seers prophesize that Yeshua is the Messiah, a prediction that stirs the boy. But his father dismisses the claim and arranges for Yeshua to marry for the good of the whole family. Then Yeshua meets Dhiman, a Buddhist monk who tells him that in his religious tradition, anyone can become a monk regardless of the circumstances of birth, and the boy runs off with him to study. But though he learns much, he is also stymied by monastic rules and is eventually forced to leave. He finds a new guru, Kahanji, who teaches him about Krishna. Again, Yeshua deepens his spiritual practice but rejects the caste system that aristocratically elevates some over others in the eyes of God. Yeshua finally returns home to his family and begins the ministry for which he becomes famous and which is viewed by the Roman authorities as politically seditious in intent. Duarte ambitiously conjures the undocumented years of Jesus’ life, before he became a historically transformative figure. The author’s knowledge of the period is remarkably astute, and she artfully concocts a less self-possessed Jesus, still grasping for a sense of his life’s mission. She also delves into his youthful worldly longings and the romantic experiences he has before his ministry, realistically fleshing out the possible details of his mortal life. Duarte masterfully traces the evolution of Jesus’ thought and the grand synthesis of religious traditions it culminates in: “I aim to remind my brother and sisters to love God and one another. Because it’s what’s in your heart that makes you righteous or impure.”
A captivating and powerfully related account of Jesus’ early years.