Damascus – Christos Tsiolkas

Life of Brian’ ‘Damascus’ most certainly isn’t, but Tsiolkas’ gritty, fleshy, reeking and violent take on the life and times of Saul/Paul and his acolytes kept the Python’s classic seeping back into my mind over and over as I read the author’s latest. It’s a departure for both of us, admittedly, but a welcome one. Unlike the movie, there’s little to laugh about with it. And I suppose, given where you are coming from, we may thank these early spreaders of the word, including Thomas and Timothy, for taking a faith out of the Holy Land, into the Roman Empire and its capital, giving our planet another religion.

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Early Christianity was such a fragile thing. The candle could have been so easily snuffed out by the old religion or under the weight of the Roman gods, but it prevailed. Mostly in the imagining by CT there’s an uneasy co-existence with the non-believers – but, of course, the early purveyors suffered great hardship, privation and on occasions, their beliefs cost them their lives. From the printed page you can almost smell the crowded, unwashed, fornicating, lice-infested bodies emanating from Tsiolkas’ prose in this quite remarkable feat of writing. With this author I can’t imagine anything rivalling that unnerving slice of Australian suburbia that is ‘The Slap’. ‘Barracuda’, for me, didn’t even come close, but I think ‘Damascus’ will truly signal him as being up there with the greats of OzLit.

For this stand out effort the Gospels are referred to, as well as other early Christian sources; fiction being added around the unknowns, to give a fetid picture of how it could possibly have really been. Some of his early references acknowledged Christ minus the crucifixion and resurrection, with that forming an aspect of the narrative. The doubts of these early followers are as fascinating as what they knew to be certain, particularly as time passes away from the actual New Testament events, given the Son of God fails to make another excursion back to Earth to visit and inspire.

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Real or false news, the notion of the goodness that Jesus of Nazareth has given us all is one of undeniable purity – but it’s a goodness we repeatedly trash with our collective actions. That shines up from the oft hellish world the author creates. But for this unbeliever (with the wordsmith himself admitting he is not sold either) I was drawn into fecund mire with all the multiple protagonists. We can only think of what might have been and recoil had it been otherwise.

The Author’s Website = http://christostsiolkas.com.au/

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