Review by Grady Harp
Portuguese author João Cerqueira, having won a PhD in History of Art from the University of Oporto, happens to be one of the more clever and creative humorists writing today. His novels satirize modern society and use irony and humor to provoke reflection and controversy. Satire is the form of humor that holds people, or society in general, up for examination, and ridicules the follies revealed. Good satire should offer improving examples or at least make us consider choices we often take for granted. In this sense, satire is of huge value to society. While satire can be cruel to the victims it mocks, it should always be funny. Some of the great satirists whose ranks João Cerqueira joins include Lewis Carroll, George Orwell, Jonathan Swift, Günter Grass, Charles Michael Palahniuk, and P. G. Wodehouse – and I’m sure many have been left out of this too brief list.
The aspect of JESUS AND MAGDALENE that makes the book so mesmerizing is the author’s fearless treading on icons and rearranging them into a story that is far more poignant and simultaneously hilarious than anything being written today. He succeeded thunderously well in his other novel THE TRAGEDY OF FIDEL CASTRO (in that book Jesus comes back to earth on another mission!) and steps into even more controversial arenas in this superb satire. As we are finding with João’s writing, an author’s note sets the mood – ‘The film Jesus of Montreal by Denys Arcand inspired me to try and create a novel in which a contemporary Jesus relives the most important episodes of his former life. My reading of the Bible made it clear that the path would have to be a different one. Recent social and political events illuminated the way to go. In the end, He won’t be the one on the cross.’
And from the Prologue we get the direction in which we are headed – ‘For reasons unknown, Jesus has returned to Earth. But he won’t be going down the same path as last time, either because he likes to be original, or because times are different now, or maybe just because he has learned his lesson. For example, he won’t have to be born from a virgin by the work and grace of the Holy Spirit, in a reproductive feat attributed to a dove. At the time this fact may have raised a few eyebrows, provoked a frown from some, insults from others, but now, in a world where paternity tests are commonplace, it would be too risky to use the same method to come into the world. If, instead of the Holy Spirit, genetic profiling proved he had another father, it would cause a scandal. And because you can’t twist the logic of the epiphany, i.e., have a virgin father instead of the mother, for this reason, even when you take low birth rates and the aging population into account, it’s better not to be born again.’
That is the flavor, and add Jesus’ meeting of activist Magdalene who is fighting for a better world and they find an extremist ecological group, which is plotting to destroy a maize plantation it believes to be genetically modified. Then, he observes the rise up against a tourist development that is to be built in a forest reserve. Finally, he witnesses an armed conflict between blacks and gypsies. However, although he limits himself to accompanying Magdalene attempting only to pacify those on bad terms, even then Jesus is unable to escape the fury of mankind. And only a con man will recognize him. Using humor, Jesus and Magdalene broaches recent phenomena of social and political conflict.’
It is doubtful anyone could summarize the impact of this book better. Suffice it to say, this book is one that will always remain on the shelf to be read and re-read – especially as the world grows more and more ridiculous in the way we are handling it. This is simply great writing by a young but gifted master storyteller – and satirist!
TITLE: Jesus and Magdalene
AUTHOR: João Cerqueira
Publisher: Line by Lion Publications; First edition (July 19, 2016)
Publication Date: July 19, 2016