THE FIFTH MOUNTAIN
Margaret Jull Costa
A huge improvement over Brazilian author Coelho's last, the gucky religious romance By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1996). The carpenter Elijah, at age 23, knows he's a prophet because an angel keeps visiting him and giving him orders on what to do with his life. The Israelites and their One God live under the heels of the Phoenicians and of the slinky Jezebel of Samaria, worshipper of Baal. Jezebel sends her troops and priests out to slay all Israelite prophets, of whom there are many, and so Elijah's angel tells him to flee to the desert, where a crow will feed him daily. Indeed, the crow not only feeds him but talks to him as well, although Elijah insists that he's really talking only with himself. Then the angel appears again, this time telling Elijah that he must avenge the Lord--a plan that includes his going to Akbar and living with a widow. The widow at first resists taking him in. And when her boy dies, the townsfolk take the Israelite's presence as a curse and the cause of the child's death. The priests send Elijah up on Baal's Fifth Mountain, where they assume he'll be consumed by fire. Instead, of course, his angel appears and tells him to return to the widow and raise her boy from the dead. This he does, though the priests don't accept the miracle. In a later test of faith, Elijah, triumphing over these same priests, sets in motion a series of events leading both to Jezebel's death and Baal's humbling. Eventually, Elijah--still alive--is carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire. Compellingly, everyone keeps keen score on the gods as if they are strangely real rival sports teams. Coelho meanwhile handles religion, politics, battles, plagues, the earthshaking arrival of the alphabet, and the destruction and rebuilding of Akbar with realism, suspense, and down-to-earth dialogue. Surprisingly persuasive storytelling.