Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Story of the Son

The Testament of Mary
is Colm Toibin's take on what Mary, mother of Jesus, would have written if she had the opportunity to write her own version of what happened when her son died.  Although Mary is said to be illiterate, Toibin's story is  in her voice, telling the truth as she knows it, as opposed to what Jesus' disciples would have wanted her to say.  In fact, throughout the story, some of Jesus' followers are asking her for her story, and claiming to write down what she says.  Mary doubts that they are really writing her words when they refuse to read her what they have written.  As time goes on, they worry less about offending her, and simply tell her that she is remembering wrong, but that they'll write the story as it "really" happened.

As Jesus is raising Lazarus from the dead and turning water in to wine, Mary doesn't doubt what her son is able to do, but she wishes that he would stop.  Like the worried mother that she is, she doesn't want her son to draw attention to himself. She is convinced that if she could just get him to come home and stay there for a while away from his friends, maybe the authorities would forget about him.  Like a typical son, Jesus is having none of that, even if he knows that his mother is right.

While I don't purport to be a Biblical scholar, even I can recognize that there are significant differences between the story of Jesus's life as we have learned it, and the story that Mary tells.  My major objection to the Bible is that although much of it has remained the same for hundreds of years, there is no denying that it has been edited, and entire books have been omitted or deleted.  There are many current versions, all calling themselves "The Bible", but using different words to say the similar things.  People who believe that the Bible is literally true are putting their faith in these editors, without knowing who they are or what motives they may be pursuing.  In Toibin's story, even the very first written version of Mary's testament has been shaped to fit the disciples' objectives.

At only 81 pages, The Testament of Mary  is testament sized.  It is a very fast read, and very well written.  It is believable that this could have been another book of the Bible.  I'm pretty sure that once again, I will treat historical fiction as fact, and will always remember the story of the crucifixion through the mother's eyes.

The Testament of Mary was a NYT Notable Book for 2012, and is currently on the Man Booker Longlist.  The Shortlist will be announced on September 10, and I would not be surprised to see Testament move up.

Next Up:  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Still Listening To:  The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison

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