Reviews

Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

The Bible tells of Christ's temptation by the devil during his 40-day fast in the wilderness. In his newest novel, the talented Crace (Signals of Distress, LJ 8/95) expands on this scenario by adding a few characters, all of whom have come to the same cavernous area to fast and pray for healing. The devil himself actually never shows up, but Jesus' inadvertent companions provide enough temptation and derision for readers to get the point. Chief among the travelers is Musa, a greedy, corpulent trader who takes what he wants from his tenants and his wife through violence and intimidation. Yet even Musa may not be beyond salvation. Not forbiddingly scholarly, this book will be of interest mainly to libraries with strong religious collections, though Crace does leaven the sparse story line with humor, character development, and a clinical eye to what exactly happens to a body over 40 days without food or drink. Sure to please some readers, though the audience is bound to be small. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/97.]‘Marc A. Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., Pa. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Left behind by the family caravan to tend to her dying husband, a woman spies five pilgrims who have come to the desert to perform quarantines--40 days of fasting and prayer. Four people settle into the caves near where Miri and her husband, Musa, have set up their tent, while the fifth pilgrim, a straggler of indeterminate age, stops at the tent to quench his thirst. After drinking a bit of water, the straggler eases his host's suffering by sprinkling him with a few drops and reciting his people's traditional greeting for the sick: "So, here, be well again." Thereupon he leaves to begin his quarantine away from the others, in a more remote area. That night, Musa makes a complete recovery (much to his abused wife's chagrin), becoming the first recipient of Jesus' healing powers. Crace's (Signals of Distress, 1995) humanist recasting of Jesus' 40 days in the desert--Musa and the others become the tempting demons to the hallucinating Jesus--raises new issues of theology, ethics, biblical narrative, and cause and effect. --Frank Caso


Publishers Weekly
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This extraordinary novel, a sometimes realistic, sometimes hallucinatory account of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, is the latest by England's Crace, a writer of great gifts (The Gift of Stones, Continent), and was reportedly the runner-up to The God of Small Things for the Booker prize. It is a remarkably successful attempt to put a story known by everyone into a convincing physical and historical context. The beauty and precision of Crace's writing, as well as his store of knowledge about such arcane matters as weaving two millennia ago and the fauna of the Judean desert, give what could have been a fey experiment an air of overwhelming authority. For a start, Jesus, portrayed as a rather callow youth befuddled by prayer, is not at the center of the canvas. That spot belongs to Musa, a stout, lecherous, bullying merchant with a beguiling tongue, whose skinny and long-suffering wife, Miri, has left him for dead in his tent as the story begins. Then, Jesus is not the only pilgrim essaying a fast in the desert. Setting about their vigils in their very different ways are Shim, a handsome, self-absorbed ascetic; Marta, a prosperous but barren woman who yearns to conceive; Aphas, an elderly Jew with cancer; and a dumb, wiry peasant. After Jesus seems to bring Musa back to life (he is obsessed with the idea of being a healer), the merchant comes to dominate the group, using his salesman's skills to convince them that he is their landlord and they owe him tribute. Only the thought of Jesus, who hides from the rest in his inaccessible cave, gives him pause. As for Jesus himself, can Musa be the devil sent to tempt him? The ways in which Crace has the six desert dwellers interrelate with each other and with Jesus are spellbinding; the book is a superbly crafted combination of historical and inspirational fiction that is genuinely unique. Rights: David Godwin Assoc. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Crace, who creates a whole new world with each novel (e.g., The Gift of Stones, LJ 4/1/89), this time introduces a windblown, shimmering Judea 2000 years in the past, with Jesus merely one of a multitude of characters. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.