- ISBN: 9780374184308
- Published By: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Published: March 2017
A novel in four parts, Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom recounts the story of Carrère’s own brush with faith and subsequent spiral into doubt before historiographically tackling Paul, Luke, and the writing of the Gospels. Though discomfiting to some, The Kingdom is a work of creative nonfiction that, among many other things, problematizes the porous borders between fiction and history. While one can recognize the intense research and analysis that went into writing The Kingdom, one cannot help but read it through the thoughtful eyes of Carrère. In other words, The Kingdom is a work of both history and creation that seeks to display the first-century Mediterranean world in all of its complexity while also projecting Carrère’s emotion and context onto the record that it is trying to elucidate.
Deep into his recreation of Luke’s journalistic account of the life of Paul, Carrère discusses the two-year stay of the latter in Caesarea. It is here that Carrère then begins to weave a tale of Luke’s sleuth-like piecing together of Jesus’s life. Carrère knows he is creating, admits it but—as a writer of creative nonfiction—claims there is little else that he could do. “Everything I’ve told until now,” Carrère writes, “is known and more or less accepted” (196). True. He writes both eloquently and well about the beginnings of the Christ movement. He does not mislead. But then? “For [those] two years ... I’ve got nothing. Not a single source. I’m free—and forced—to invent” (196). Carrère’s project then becomes “to investigate what [Luke’s] investigation may have been like” (197, emphasis is mine).
While there are many things to be gleaned from a book like The Kingdom, it is my contention that it serves two purposes for the academy. First, it is a book that should be read in all “Introduction to Christianity” or “Religion and Literature” classes. With the former, it should raise questions of narration, emplotment, faith and doubt, and the way in which religions are shaped by the processes of transmission, translation, and interpretation. With the latter, it should be read in concert with Amy Hungerford’ Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion since 1960 (Princeton University Press, 2010), Magdalena Maczynska’s The Gospel According to the Novelist: Religious Scripture and Contemporary Fiction (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015), and John McClure’s Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison (University of Georgia Press, 2007). Here, one can explore questions of secularism and post-secularism, dogma and pluralism, and the way in which creative nonfiction plays with our notions of poetics and historiography.
The Kingdom’s second purpose for the academy is that is it serves as a reminder. “In a nutshell,” Carrère writes, “I’m all for reading the Bible as it suits me, as long as I bear in mind that I’m doing just that. And I’m all for projecting myself onto the figure of Luke, as long as I’m aware that I’m projecting” (251). The Kingdom is a reminder to all academics that, no matter how cringe worthy the idea—we all project our emotion, context, and voice into our various projects. We all set out in our expertise to objectively recount the data, but, in the end, do little more than tell a story wherein the academic—much like Carrère in The Kingdom—embodies the “I” of the protagonist. And why is this such an important reminder? Because when approached this way, academia is seen for what it is, a wonderfully world-enriching, but ultimately provisional, accumulation of knowledge. And when viewed as provisional, one cannot help but wonder if perhaps we should not all end our books as Carrère has done, with three simple and humble words: “I don’t know” (384).
Benjamin John Peters is a Ph.D. candidate in religious studies at the University of Denver.Benjamin John PetersDate Of Review:June 29, 2017