Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Book Review: The Gift
From the prologue: The people of the twenty-first century nearly destroyed the earth in a global nuclear holocaust. This is the story of what God did next.
It has actually been several centuries--at least--since the 'modern world' collapsed due to virus, war, food shortages, etc. And the world has reorganized itself, new civilizations have been formed, several societies put into place. This trilogy is set in a nearly unrecognizable Europe. The Gift is the second book in the trilogy. The Sword is the first novel, The Gift is the second novel, and The Kingdom is the third novel--this final book in the trilogy will be published this summer.
It had been over two years since I first read The Sword, and I think that proved problematic when I picked up this one. The big things--the name of our hero and heroine, the name of their God (Deu), the fact that the last book ended with their exile--I remembered. Everything else I had forgotten, all the little things, details big and small, including the author's very distinct writing style. So it took me over two hundred pages to reconnect with the story, with the characters. For the first two hundred pages, I was definitely a reluctant reader. The last two hundred pages went smoother, it helped that I made up my mind that no matter what I was going to finish the book that day.
What did I struggle with in this second book? I'm not sure if I struggled more with the plot or with the characters. Teo and Ana are exiled from their country, but, are soon welcomed into a new country. Ana is accepted into the social elite (I'm not sure if this was just because she was so beautiful, or, if they assumed she was a fine lady in the other country and deserved the same special treatment there), but, Teo is not. He manages to stay very, very, very loosely connected with Ana by claiming the role of her tutor. But almost everyone assumes that he's merely her love slave. Ana glories in her new lifestyle, she loves her new rich friends, loves all the parties, loves the clothes, loves the attention and flattery. The more materialistic Ana becomes, the less prone she is to listen to Teo who warns her not to forget the most important thing. But does Ana listen? Oh, no, she does not. Does she drink? Does she party? Does she start sunbathing topless in public? Yes, yes, yes. She stops listening to Teo, stops listening to God, and then starts questioning and doubting things she knows to be true. Teo is a man who is torn in his duties. On the one hand, he knows that finding the New Testament is the MOST important, most essential thing he could do. He knows that finding the New Testament, translating it into a language that can be understood, getting the full truth of God's message to men is the MOST IMPORTANT thing he could do. It's worth living and dying for. He knows he must attempt it no matter the risk. But, at the same time, he's torn because he wants to save Ana from herself, and from outside dangers as well. He knows that she's not safe, he knows she's being really stupid, he knows that her faith is endangering her life, he knows that she has enemies--as he knows that he has enemies. So part of him wants to stay in the background just watching and waiting and watching and waiting and watching and waiting...to see what happens next in Ana's life. Does Ana even know that Teo is around? No, not really. She assumes that he's moved on, moved away, accepted their new places in society. Because she has pushed him out of her thoughts--essentially--she doesn't really appreciate the sacrifices he's making for her. So essentially, the first half of the novel could be summed up as: watch Ana be stupid. The second half of the novel is different, however, for Ana realizes that she's walked away from God, and she's made some big mistakes. She turns towards God, finds forgiveness, becomes selfless, humbles herself, etc. Teo does not change in the second half, he remains the hero he's been since page one, book one.
The plot. What can I say? There's a dark side to these books, a dark side that delights in torture, torture, and more torture. Readers are forced to "overhear" evil, evil plots that endanger the characters we care about, or are supposed to care about. In a way, I suppose, the dark side adds tension, contrast, suspense to the novel. But there's only so much torture a person can take without becoming sick of it.
The second half of the novel does become intense, but I'm not sure it's a good enough intense. Part of me got frustrated even with the second half of this one because it was Teo's turn to be stupid, I suppose. In a couple of crucial moments, moments where he had to choose between his mission to serve God, to find the New Testament, to find out the truth, the whole truth of God's message, to restore Christianity, he chose saving the girl.
So in this one scene, the scene when they discover the last remaining copy of the New Testament, the only copy supposedly still in existence on the whole planet, and the bad guys show up and he has to choose between saving the girl's life (supposedly, they have her in their grasp) and handing the copy over knowing that it's just a matter of time--perhaps minutes, perhaps hours, perhaps days--before it is destroyed....and he chooses the girl. Never mind that a whole secret community is counting on him, never mind that there is no one left on the planet who knows who Jesus Christ is, why he came to Earth, why he died, the fact that he rose again, the fact that he saves us from our sins, delivers us from our sins, restores and redeems us, adopts us. Etc. This body of believers--men, women who believe in the one true Creator God--who knows nothing at all about the New Testament, any event, any promise, any doctrine, etc. And he chooses the girl. And the New Testament is burned. Part of me was like, how is saving Ana going to bring salvation to the world? Do you even realize what you just threw away? I mean, sure, this proves that he *loves* her in that way, something she was in doubt about for the first half of the novel because he hadn't spent every moment of every hour of every day flattering her, complimenting her, and trying to kiss her, etc. But I was a little frustrated with Teo here.
The novel does have some strengths. For example, it is hard to read this one without reflecting on your faith and your knowledge of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, your knowledge of doctrines, etc. In this story, we see that "Christianity" has been preserved through the sketchy-fuzzy memory of a five year old boy who grew up to be "Papa" and live in "Roma." He remembers the act of communion, but not what it means, not what it signifies. He remembers that Christians were commanded to love others and serve others, to be compassionate to the needy, to welcome the outcasts, the needy, the sick and dying. But he doesn't really remember why--just that God loves them, so we should too. He remembers vaguely the symbol of the cross--the wounded man on the cross--but he doesn't remember why he died, what his death accomplished, and the fact that "the pierced One" rose again on the third day. So this "Christian" community that essentially is an echo of an echo of an echo of an echo from faded centuries is desperately in need of the truth--the WHOLE truth. They have no sacred writings, no sacred texts, no religious texts or treatises at all. Nothing to help them spiritually or practically in terms of knowing the God that they risk their lives to worship. And there is a lot to contemplate. One, Christianity was in its dying stages even as the big war came, even as the evil virus threatened humanity's survival. People just didn't care enough to live the faith, to know the Bible, to know God, to pass the gospel, to pass the Word down to their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Doctrines weren't seen as being important and relevant--and neither was the Word of God. Perhaps there were some that were going through the motions. We are told very, very, very little about this time--mainly just through the prologues and we're left to form our own conclusions as to how everything degraded into the mess it was. But. We're also told that in the next twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years after IT happened, that governments came together to make a pact and part of that pact was to make Christianity illegal, to make the sacred texts illegal, to make proselytizing illegal. They formed an army of men dedicated to hunting down Christians killing them, men dedicated to destroying/burning sacred/religious texts. Two, in terms of reconstruction, how well could you do, how well could the average believer do, the average church-goer, the average child. How important is it to you to KNOW the Bible? How important is it to you to know your doctrine? To be firmly rooted and grounded in the faith--in historic faith. How relevant is it to you in your own life? Is it something you've even thought about at all? How much do you take for granted? And should you be taking it for granted? How much do you VALUE the Bible? How thankful are you that God is not silent, that the mystery can be known and explored?
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible