Lead Review (The Gospel According to the New World)
- Book: The Gospel According to the New World
- Location: Caribbean
- Author: Maryse Condé
The Gospel According to the New World is the latest work by reimagines the story of the Son of God but it’s set in modern times and relocated to the Caribbean. Pascal is a mixed-race child born in a stable at Easter. His parents are Maya, an unmarried mother, and Corazón Tejara, an academic and a benefactor but also an absentee father. Will Pascal be recognised for what he is? Does he come to save the world? This is the premise of Maryse Condé’s book, and it is fascinating to explore what might happen.
In The Gospel According to the New World, this saviour de nos jours has a hard time trying to discover what his role is in life. The idea is intriguing, though it’s somewhat frustrating for the poor Son of God, who can’t seem to catch a break. He’s told he has to change the world and make it a better place. But how? We follow Pascal’s somewhat meandering journey as he tries to find a purpose in life, to understand more about himself and perhaps even to meet his biological father, an encounter that he feels will explain everything. Along the way he meets a cast of characters who are uncannily similar to Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament and who offer him support or threats, according to the roles of their Biblical equivalent.
Despite being told he’s the Son of God, Pascal can’t understand the reverence others show toward him and he certainly doesn’t seem to deserve it. He smokes, has casual sex, is ineffectual and full of doubts. Not exactly messiah material.
The author employs gritty descriptions of the various communities that Pascal travels through in his quest, with their crime, substance abuse and violence towards minorities. This contrast sharply with the descriptions of the settings: the natural beauty of the Caribbean islands. Pascal visits other islands that are governed by contrasting political ideologies, and he meets people who follow many of the world’s religions, none of which achieve anything approaching Utopia. The novel explores themes of sexual inequality, racism, religion and persecution. Meanwhile Pascal himself is inward looking, usually wringing his hands over his own position, which is much better than most of those he meets.
The humour that author uses is delightful, such as repurposing well-known Biblical phrases in inappropriate contexts and ironically commenting on the commercialisation of Christmas. It’s a little reminiscent of The Life of Brian in this respect. In addition to the Biblical references there are also echoes of Swift’s Modest Proposal (and many other literary works).
I’m not sure that Condé’s novel reaches any firm conclusion about how society can be changed for the better, despite her assertion that it illustrates the power of faith. I loved the rich descriptions, but I felt that the translation was too literal in places. Nevertheless, this is still a book that can be read and enjoyed on many levels.