An inventive and gripping work of historical fiction focusing on Jesus.

SECOND BORN

Jesus embarks on youthful adventures and deals with family expectations before discovering his divine mission in this debut novel.

Joseph is a wealthy builder living north of Jerusalem in the first century, accustomed to making necessary compromises as a Jew living under the Roman occupation of Israel. But he has high hopes that his first-born son, James, will one day become an important holy man, even the high priest of the Temple, and help re-establish Israel’s spiritual independence from its oppressors. Meanwhile, Joseph intends for his second-born son, Jesus, a rambunctiously mischievous 12-year-old at the start of the story, to eventually take over the family business and marry. Andersen imaginatively conjures a dramatic chronicle of Jesus’ upbringing before his ministry, a gradual process that follows his youthful introduction to Buddhist meditation and a fateful communication from God after he encounters his cousin John boldly baptizing new disciples. While being baptized himself, Jesus is finally given his divine assignment from God, a continuation of the work of John: “John has reminded the people to fear me. That is an important first step, and his name will be remembered for countless generations as one of my prophets. Now for the next step, I want you to remind them to love me.” But as Jesus’ teaching attracts greater attention and disciples, Roman leaders pursue the man who proposes an authority even greater than their own. In addition, violence threatens to erupt and swallow the Jewish population whole as radical insurgents intent on overthrowing Roman rule plan to strike.  Andersen vividly depicts the political and theological cleavages in Jerusalem created by Roman tyranny—a Jewish people turned against themselves. The author is particularly strong dramatizing the religious devastation wrought by despotism—James considers his most dangerous adversaries to be the Sadducees, members of a sect that sacrificed its spiritual integrity by bribing its tormentors for political gain. Jesus’ preaching is intelligently situated within this historical context with notable narrative subtlety and scholarly authenticity, a primarily spiritual program with significant political ramifications. The highlight of Andersen’s fictional rendering, though, is the reconstruction of Jesus’ family life, a provocative departure from the more traditional scriptural version. In this retelling, James is the one whose divinely ordained future is foretold by prophecy, while the story of Jesus’ beginnings in Immaculate Conception is exchanged for a more quotidian, mortal birth. In fact, Jesus seems an unlikely choice as a child to become a historically significant martyr—he evinces no shortage of boldness but also a great deficit of both gravity and prudence. Considering the son of God as an impetuous adolescent who is regularly bailed out of jams by his affluent father takes not only deep reserves of fictional creativity, but also authorial courage. Andersen’s prose is unfailingly clear—if sometimes bloodless and earnest. The entire story is presented as a series of shifting perspectives—readers are treated to not only Jesus’ evolving understanding of himself, but also the interpretations of his family members, a kaleidoscopic narrative artfully consolidated into a coherent whole. 

An inventive and gripping work of historical fiction focusing on Jesus. 

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-64082-543-7

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Page Publishing, Inc.

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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