THE FOUR WISE MEN by Michel Tournier


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An ornate, tooled approach to Christian myth by the ever-elegant Tournier, who's especially well-served this time by translator Manheim. The star-following visitors to Baby Jesus in the manger--Gaspar, King of Meroë; Balthasar, King of Nippur; Melchior, Prince of Palmyra--are joined in Tournier's version by the apocryphal, peripheral, yet perhaps most crucial royal pilgrim of all: Taor, Prince of Mangalore. Son of an Indian maharajah, Taor has tasted a piece of pistachio rahat loukoum (Turkish delight); so exalted is he by the flavor, he sets out to recover the recipe, a fruitless quest that takes him across western Asia and finally lands him in Sodom, where he's imprisoned (the last of many misadventures) in a salt mine. There, ironically, where there is no sweetness, he learns from a fellow prisoner the recipe for the quested-after candy; he also learns of the existence of Jesus. And so Tournier's Christian parable is capped off with dualities and paradox--a mighty man brought low, finding the uttermost sweetness in a place of saltiness--as Taor comes to represent Faith (while the other wise men illustrate the fates of self-worth, art, and power). Less dense than the similarly metaphorical Gemini, but with far more narrative enchantment in its theme-weaving (color, image as likeness and essence, even sodomy), this is one of Tournier's better books: agile, quietly devious--though surely for a special audience, one that appreciates rarified artifice, exquisite variations on delicate ideas.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0801857333
Publisher: Doubleday