Bunea (Gals, Gods, Guns, 2017, etc.) imagines the personal thoughts of a thoroughly nontraditional future pope in this novel.
This book purports to contain the diary entries of Enyi Chebea, or as he will be known to history, Pope Francis II. Born in Nigeria sometime in the 1990s, he’s elected to the Throne of Saint Peter on his 50th birthday, the first black African ever to hold the office. His colleagues in the College of Cardinals think that they know him, but, as his diary proves, Chebea actually keeps many secrets: “they know nothing about the darkness of my mind, how it haunts me at the peak of my prostrations, and they know nothing about you, my beloved angel!” The angel he’s addressing is an earthly one: Nwanne Yinkaso, a man whom he met while in the seminary who remains his lover and closest confidant. Modeling his diary on the structure of the book of Ecclesiastes, Chebea muses on the proper ways to live one’s life as he chronicles his first actions as pope, instituting reforms that he believes are long overdue—including church payment of taxes, priesthood for women, and the recognition of same-sex unions. He must be careful not to say or do too much too quickly, however, lest he reveal the supposed “heresies” that have taken root in his heart. Bunea’s prose is impassioned yet analytical throughout this novel, and he effectively captures the voice that one would expect from a conflicted young pontiff: “I wish I knew more today about the world of tomorrow. Is this not the dream of any man, simple or in high office? To know what has not happened yet, so he could have a better life today?” The plot moves slowly, however, and at more than 400 pages, the novel is perhaps longer than it should be. That said, Bunea does dig deeply into issues of faith, doubt, and how to do good—all in a way that’s ultimately invigorating.
An ambitious philosophical novel about a transformative pope.