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Quarantine – Jim Crace

 
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Posted September 3, 2016 by

Quarantine – Jim Crace – 1997

Reviewed by: Anna van Gelderen          Date: 5 May 2002

The place: a dry landscape in the Near-East. The time: the early decades AD. In their tent merchant’s wife Miri notices that her husband’s tongue is black and that he is running a high fever: “She put her hand on to his chest; it was soft, damp and hot, like fresh bread. Her husband, Musa, was being baked alive. Good news.” Miri and the hated Musa are then left behind by the other merchants, so that Musa can die without hindring the caravan’s progress.

Stranded, they are joined by an odd bunch of individuals: five men and women who have come to the desert for 40 days (the origin of the word “quarantine”) to fast and pray and be granted sanity, health, pregnancy or something else. One keeps himself entirely apart: an elusive, zealous young carpenter’s son from Galilee, who soon becomes the object of speculation, mythmaking and awe, especially when Musa, after a brief encounter with the Galilean, confounds everybody’s hopes and expectations by staying alive.

It won’t do to give away anything more of what happens, but the sense of place, the individuality of the characters and especially the interaction between them are marvellous. And things do not quite turn out as anyone with a smattering of knowledge of the the New Testament would expect. Or do they? Besides providing us with a great story the novel also gives food for thought to both atheists like myself and Christians with an enquiring mind. The orthodox had better read something else.

Quarantine: A Novel
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