December 20, 2012 by markstani
It’s almost impossible to paint Youssef Ziedan’s ‘Azazeel’ up as the kind of thing that will send you rushing to the bookshop to buy it. A weighty, translated-from-Arabic tome about subtle dogmatic differences in early Christianity? It’s not exactly bound for the bestseller list.
But out of what you might call the most unpromising of raw materials, Ziedan and his translator Jonathan Wright have crafted nothing short of a masterpiece: deep and powerful enough to raise fundamental questions about the nature of religion that can still be applied today, yet sexy, fiery and furious enough to have you positively tearing through the pages. In the ten months or so since I read it, my enthusiasm for ‘Azazeel’ – translated, incidentally, as a reward for winning the International Prize For Arabic Fiction – has not dimmed one bit. Give it a go. I’m convinced you’ll consider it worthwhile.
It says: Set in the 5th century AD, Azazeel is the exquisitely crafted tale of a Coptic monk’s journey from Upper Egypt to Alexandria and then Syria during a time of massive upheaval in the early Church… Azazeel highlights how the history of our civilization has been warped by greed and avarice since its very beginnings and how one man’s beliefs are challenged not only by the malice of the devil, but by the corruption within the early church.
It starts: Mercy, my Lord, Mercy and forgiveness, our Father in Heaven. Have mercy on me and forgive me, for as you know I am weak. My merciful Lord, my hands tremble in fear and dread. My heart and soul tremble at the vicissitudes and turmoil of this age. Yours alone is the glory, my merciful Lord. You know that I obtained these scrolls many years ago, on the shores of the Dead Sea, to write on them my poems and my orations to you in my times of seclusion, that Your name may be glorified among those on earth, as it is in heaven.
I say: A sexy, gory, fiery, thought-provoking masterpiece… quite the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Ziedan’s real genius is this: far from crushing you under the weight of religious doctrine, he has crafted a book light in touch, sharp in plot, and which will leave you craving more.