Intricately crafted fiction woven from strands of the life of Mohammad, founder of Islam.
Over the past century, many great Western authors have used their writerly skills to fill in gaps in the Judeo–Christian tradition. Thomas Mann retells the story of Genesis’ Joseph in Joseph and His Brothers, Joseph Heller repackages the tales of King David in God Knows and a variety of authors—Robert Graves, Norman Mailer and José Saramago, to name a few—deliver refurbished versions of the gospel narrative. With his debut title, Kartal joins a small group of authors devoted to doing the same for Muslim tradition. The figure of Bahira—or Sergius—is a contested one for both Christians and Muslims: Tradition has it that Sergius, a heterodox Christian monk, was the first man to realize that Mohammad was a true prophet of God. For Muslims, Sergius’ revelation seems to prove that Christianity’s promise is fulfilled by Islam. For Christians, the fact that Sergius recognizes Mohammad’s gifts confirms Christianity’s superiority. These debates, however, are of secondary interest to Kartal, whose gorgeous prose plays out the relationship between the two men in novel form. For Kartal and for the sources on which he relies, Sergius meets Mohammad when the latter is just a young boy. But where others dismiss the child’s shaking spells, Sergius acclaims them signs of the divine presence. Much of what follows is Kartal’s invention, but as such, it is thoroughly engrossing. He writes with wit, concision and no small humor, and, while fictive, the novel is also thoroughly informative. In this excellent piece of religious invention, readers uninformed of the Muslim faith will learn much from the cast of characters surrounding the young prophet, as well as from tales of his youth and young adulthood, his loves and his losses.
An unorthodox but valuable introduction to the youngest of the major Western monotheisms.