José de Sousa Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.
In 1992, the Portuguese government had ordered the removal of “O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo “(“The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” )from the European Literary Prize's shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive.
Saramago, deeply disappointed for what he considered a detestable form of censorship, left Portugal and moved to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, where he resided until his death, on the 18th of June 2010. He was 87 years old.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, had already put in discussion the choice of Nobel committee in awarding Saramago and the day after his death published a bitter obituary, which, if it was the place for that, would lead us to a melancholy reflection about compassion and tolerance.
Oscar Wilde, who knew what he was speaking of, said that there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.
Books are well written, or badly written.
“The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” by José Saramago, which I read in Italian translation, being - unluckily - unable to read it in its original version in Portuguese ( I thought, maybe wrongly, that reading it in another neo-latin language rather than in English could help me to remain a little closer to the original), is in my opinion a very well written book.
I might even say it’s one of the books which has impressed me most in the last ten years, if not the single most impressive book I have yet read.
Saramago’s prose is very elegant and rich in images, apparently irksome, at first sight, for the very personal use of punctuation which is rather irregular, often practically inexistent, with an overuse of capital letters and short sentences ending in commas.
But then it takes the reader into its fluent melody and drags them into a stream which is easy to follow.
Supported by his deeply evocative way of writing Saramago re-tells the events of Jesus’ life using the well known episodes described by the canonical Gospel as a draft to invent or simply develop another parallel story.
Jesus as he’s described in the fiction is perceived from a pure human point of view, but he’s also deeply linked to the divine, even though not necessary totally voluntarily.
From his birth in Bethlehem until his death on Golgotha, the Jesus of Saramago faces the same experiences told in the canonical Gospel, but filtered through a screen of critical spirit, logic and also deep compassion.
Jesus’ life becomes an opportunity to think over about the contraposition between good and evil on earth, the absurdity of doing what is right by what is unfair, the impenetrable meaning of life and the baffling ambiguity of certain aspects of divinity.
In spite of the depth of the subject, the novel is never pedantic, never boring, it’s entertaining, involving and touching, with episodes which make the prose fly high close to poetry.
Of course if you cannot tolerate the idea to read in a work of fiction that the human character Jesus feels love, fear, passions, doubts and anguish, it might be better that you don’t start reading this remarkable novel at all.
But it’s important to stress that Saramago doesn’t mock any of his characters in this book, on the contrary he describes Jesus with a deep empathy, sweetness and absolutely sincere sympathy.
Another important element is that every open minded believer has not any reason to feel offended.
Usually the Grinning Cats don’t reveal any very personal biographical feature in their reviews, because it’s a virtual book club, not FaceBook (luckily!)and the protagonists are only the books, but in this case it has a meaning to let our two or three faithful readers know that one of the Grinning Cats is a sincere believer and the other one an unbiased atheist, but both have deeply loved this book, as you can see reading both reviews.
My colleague and co-owner of this virtual Book Club – Grinning Cat 1 - has wisely written her review of this very book, please read it too;
you can find it deposited in her part of the Club, clicking on the below little librarian black cat .
“The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” is a book which left me moved and enriched and with a sincere desire to reflect more deeply about life in a philosophical approach to a universal ethic.
I felt deeply touched by the nuances of characters, by the accurate even though imaginary description of places and the ancient common life style, all achieved by the integrity of the writer.
It’s a book which raises discussion about some certainties, but opens a way to other perspectives; it’s a book which helps us to think, to analyse our own feelings which we can see reflected in some character and, as Oscar Wilde would say, it’s definitely moral, because it’s a good book.
click on this small picture if you feel like reading an excerpt from this novel.