The Gospel According to The New World by Maryse Condé, translated from the French by her husband, Richard Philcox (International Booker Prize 2023 longlist)

This will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me: if I had not committed to reading the International Booker Prize 2023 long list, I wouldn’t have read more than 50 pages of The Gospel According to the New World.

Condé does a marvelous job of giving us the Caribbean in the cadence of a skilled storyteller. But, she does an abysmal job in creating a Christ figure who is independent from the one I’ve read about in the Bible. Why does His story need to be rewritten?

She draws parallels between Jesus Christ, and her lead character, Pascal (Easter), as if they both comprised the essence of the New Testament. Pascal is born of a Spaniard, who has disappeared from the cruise ship in which he bed Pascal’s mother, Maya…she leaves the baby in a shed between the hooves of a donkey for warmth.

Many other “parallels” between Jesus and Pascal occur, such as finding twelve fishermen, multiplying the braided loaves, turning the Rialto into a den of thieves, raising Lazare from the dead…

Yet, there is also a strong representation of today’s issues. Condé addresses prejudice, wealth, and gender in her novel, for who could leave those alone in 2023?

An unknown visitor arrives for Pascal’s christening. He brings a flower, in an earthen vase, that Pascal’s mother had never seen before. “This flower’s name is Tete Negresse,” the new arrival explained. “It is designed to erase the Song of Solomon from our memory. You recall those shocking words, I am Black but I am beautiful. These words must never be pronounced again.” (p. 32)

The bride in the Song of Solomon has no case for Black or White; the girl laments that she has been darkened by the sun, mistreated by her brothers:

5 Dark am I, yet lovely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect

Song of Solomon 1:5-6 (NIV)

I never took this passage to mean anything racial, or prejudicial; more than anything, it points to the cruelty of her siblings, as well as her hard work under the sun.

Then there is the statement against the middle class, as if it is despicable. “He (Pascal) argued that he was going to be twenty and was perfectly capable of deciding his future on his own. Moreover, they knew full well that he had never liked the bourgeois milieu they had forced him to accept, particularly its arrogance and selfish indifference towards everything that didn’t concern it directly.” (p. 44)

Shall we take care about whom we lump together? Not all poor are lazy. Not all middle class are indifferent to others. Not all rich are unlawful…

I found myself becoming more troubled with each page that I read. My interpretation is that Maryse Condé speaks with great irreverence about God’s Son, in whom I believe with all my heart. Quite possibly this is a book which many will enjoy, but for me, I could not accept the scornful way she seemed to mock the Word made flesh in her characterization of Pascal. The Gospel According to the New World is not for me, and it will be near the bottom of my list for the International Booker Prize this year.

Find a review from my fellow Shadow Panel Jurist, David, here,

2 thoughts on “The Gospel According to The New World by Maryse Condé, translated from the French by her husband, Richard Philcox (International Booker Prize 2023 longlist)”

  1. Really, this book is the worst. It would have been a wonderful entry into a story telling contest, but how it made it into the Booker list, the short list at that, I’ll never know. Actually, I do know: the judges want to acknowledge the author. No matter what was submitted this year.


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