Lamensdorf (The Mexican Gardener, 2013, etc.) imagines the life of Jesus in this revisionist historical novel.
There have been so many takes on the life of Jesus that even those books that seek to be controversial are hard-pressed to come up with new angles. The Jesus of Lamensdorf’s novel is not the figure from Christian Sunday schools. His ministry was inspired in part by the murder of his wife and children—and yet he falls well within the recognizable parameters of a historical Jesus figure. Lamensdorf places Jesus (or Joshua, as he is called by his fellow Jews) at the center of a political struggle in which the Roman occupation of the Jews’ homeland has created a situation of antagonism, violence, and rebellion. Young Joshua is of humble origins, and through his character, the author attempts to demonstrate how a love of God and people can brush up against the deadly threshing machine of an empire. From the stony hills of Galilee to the teeming streets of Jerusalem, the novel explores just what it means to be a Messiah, a miracle worker, and to save humanity from its own sins. “He knew they loved him, these people of Israel,” the author writes of Joshua, “and he loved them, too, every one of them. And he would save them, of that he was certain.” Lamensdorf is a talented writer, and the ambitiously detailed Galilee of the novel is highly immersive. The book’s heavily researched milieu possesses the heft of authority that fans of historical fiction crave. An unnecessary framing narrative set in modern times delays the real story, but once the reader gets to Nazareth in 5 B.C.E., the plot begins to gallop. The author is more interested in providing the political context for Jesus’ movement—where Romans are the clear villains—than he is in changing religious opinions. There are many books about Jesus, but this one is more compelling than most.
A robust, captivating account of the life of Jesus in Roman-occupied Palestine.