SIGNS AND WONDERS by Melvin Jules Bukiet

SIGNS AND WONDERS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Bukiet (After, 1996, etc.) portrays a gentle Messiah who may or may not have arrived to redeem the bloody 20th century. The point-of-view character here is none other than Snakes Hammurabi—Hammurabi the lawgiver but, even so, as untrustworthy as a snake. Convicted of urinating on a church altar, Hammurabi is sentenced to a surreal concrete prison, moored on the shores of the Baltic Sea like a barge. His cellmates, numbering 11, are murderers, serial killers, and Nazis—the lowest of the low. There is also a 13th man, Ben Alef, who never speaks and whose origin no one, including Ben Alef, can recall. When a storm breaks the prison from its moorings, Ben Alef comes alive, effecting their escape and walking on water ahead of them as they, marvelously, do the same. Snakes is the first to recognize that Ben Alef, a Jew, is the Messiah of prophecy who, in his brashness and professed loyalty, becomes a kind of modern Peter. With his 12 criminal disciples, Ben Alef performs various and sundry miracles, and his followers become legion, until corrupt popes and presidents pay heed. Bukiet has a good time with the New Testament: Mary Magdalene, for instance, is portrayed as a cheap hooker who, healed of her physical debilities by Ben Alef, becomes only more desirable to men, compounding her problem. Meantime, Bukiet’s Messiah is helpless, really more of an eternal victim than a savior. Caught up in the author’s vicious portrait of Disneyland as a 20th-century hell masking as heaven, Ben Alef proves unable to deliver any meaningful message. He’s “just another weakling, just another failure,” and is assassinated, leaving humankind, as the 21st century dawns, in a more godless state than ever. Entertaining, but Bukiet stacks the deck of hopelessness, never allowing his Jesus to become more than a cartoon.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-20009-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999




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