11 January 2014
I came across Greg Masse on Twitter as @GregMasse. His profile mentions this book and I decided to take a quick look. While I rarely read fiction these days, I was probably more receptive to this book as a result of only recently having read "The Bomb on the Rock" by Michael Weiss.
"And Then Came Peace" looked interesting so I used the facility to download a free sample to my Kindle iPad app. Once I had read the sample I was hooked and purchased the full Kindle book. I finished the book within about a week despite the distractions of being on holiday in Japan!
I don't want to detail the plot as it would spoil the book for people who have not yet read it. The author has provided the following summary on the book’s website:
Peace finally seems within reach—until an assassin’s sudden, violent attack in Jerusalem’s Old City thrusts Christians, Jews and Muslims into ever-escalating acts of revenge and terrorism unlike anything seen before. When disciples of each culture mete out their own justice, the world is paralyzed by the news of airplanes falling from the sky, bombs levelling ancient holy sites and nations teetering on the edge of total global war.
As chaos reigns, one person is chosen to become spiritually prepared: the only one capable of stopping the bloodletting, instilling brotherhood among all religions, establishing international goodwill and forging a new peace for humankind. Hospitalized, near death, and with the love of his life holding vigil at his side, he must embrace a journey toward enlightenment.
During his strange encounters with the prophets of our past, the reluctant hero learns that the world’s religions share many universal beliefs and truths and that these should serve humankind as forces of unity—rather than of division.
With his enlightenment complete and armed with powerful knowledge, the humbled messenger must accept his dangerous destiny and attempt to change humankind. Only then can he pull a world gone mad back from the brink of self-annihilation. But, can he keep the one he loves most?
As the summary indicates, the book is a work of fiction set mainly in Jerusalem.
The home page of the book's website also features a 13 minute video of an interview and question and answer session with the author which I recommend watching.
The book reminded me how much I enjoyed devouring science-fiction when I was young. The essence of fiction is that there are no constraints; the author can write any stories that he wishes, and anything the author wishes to happen will happen. The challenge is to write something that the reader finds credible, interesting and engaging.
I found the book almost magical in the way that it enables the reader to suspend all disbelief. Most of all it reminds me of the "The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I appreciate that the comparison may look overblown, and I do not wish to suggest that the book is of the same quality or that the author is destined to become a legend like Dostoevsky. Furthermore, the comparison is not intended to suggest that "And Then Came Peace" is hard to read; it is actually very easy to read and the 385 pages went very quickly.
Although it is almost 40 years since I read "The Brothers Karamazov" I have never forgotten the way that Dostoevsky used the freedom that fiction gives to allow Ivan to converse with the Devil and also to set up the encounter between the Grand Inquisitor and Jesus. The author uses his creative freedom in a similar way.
The book reminds us how important Jerusalem is to most of humanity. For about 2.2 billion Christians Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. For about 1.6 billion Muslims Jerusalem is the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. For 15 million Jews Jerusalem is at the very heart of their religion, remembered three times in their daily prayers, and its centrality is summarised in immensely moving language by the beginning of Psalm 137 in the King James Version:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst thereof we hanged up our harps.
For there they that led us captive asked of us words of song, and our tormentors asked of us mirth: 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion.'
How shall we sing the LORD'S song in a foreign land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.
At a key point in the narrative, the author uses three Biblical quotations about Jerusalem. I have reproduced them below, from the New Revised Standard Version, in some cases slightly longer than quoted in the book to make them easier to follow.
Thus says the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. But she has rebelled against my ordinances and my statutes, becoming more wicked than the nations and the countries all around her, rejecting my ordinances and not following my statutes.
In days to come the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
The last part of the second quote will be familiar to many from its use on a wall at the United Nations Building in New York City.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
Some readers may regard "his strange encounters with the prophets of our past" as sacrilegious. I believe that is the wrong reaction; there is no reason why a work of fiction should not use a prophet as a character, especially if that is done in a respectful manner as is the case here.
The book reminds us that good things are possible as well as bad, and it is essential for us to have positive dreams about the future which we seek to make reality.
I believe that most readers will find the book as enthralling, magical and absorbing as I did. It is very easy to read and I recommend it to everyone. It should be read as a work of fiction, not a theology textbook, and as something to enjoy rather than analyse and critique.