Nikos Kazantakis wrote one of most beautiful books on the life of Jesus Christ that I have ever read, The Last Temptation Of Christ. I first read it after finding out it was on the Vatican's list of proscribed books, which struck me as a great recommendation if I'd ever heard one. When I finished the book, what puzzled me the most was why the Vatican had considered it so horrible.
Not once in the book does Kazantakis ever question the divinity of Christ or any of the miracles. The last temptation is that while Jesus is on the cross the devil shows him what it would be like to marry and have a normal life. On the cross he lives out his days as a mortal man but in the end accepts his destiny and dies on the cross, not in his sleep.
Maybe the Vatican didn't like the fact that Jesus openly questioned his fate throughout the book, or maybe the whole debate about predestination and fate that Kazantakis raises irked them. Personally, although it was beautifully written, I found the book far too dogmatically Christian for my taste and came away knowing that Kazantakis was as devout a believer in Christ as anyone I'd ever read.
It may seem odd to begin a review about a Sufi Muslim in India with references to a book on Christ, but in M. G. Vassanji's latest release The Assassin's Song, published by Random House Canada through the Doubleday imprint, the central character faces an almost identical struggle to Christ's.
Karsan Dargawalla's family have been the keepers of a shrine to a Sufi mystic since medieval times. The eldest male in the family has always been groomed to be the Avatar of the God on earth.
The family lives in the compound where Nur Fazal, The Wanderer, finally settled and where his remains and those of his descendants are buried. They are the direct descendants, supposedly, of the God's first follower, Arjun Dev. It was said that Dev had a vision that called him forth from sleep to welcome Fazal at the gates of Patan Anularra in 1260 AD.
Fazal turned to Dev's family when he needed someone to act as his representative while he lived, so that after his death the tradition would continue. But it’s now the 1960s, and the world is a far different place than it was even during the time of Karsan's father's ascension as Saheb of the shrine. Men are traveling through space to the moon, and there is knowledge in the world that far outstrips the accumulated writings and texts in the shrine's library. How can Karsan be expected to spend his days pondering the deeds and wisdom of The Wanderer, with all that awaits him beyond the compound's gates?