The Children’s Bible

Despite the virus plaguing the globe, the climate disintegrating, and politics continuing to stress our boundaries, we all hope this is really not the beginning of the end of the world.  Lydia Millet’s The Children’s Bible offers a strong vision cautioning it may be, but also offering hope for the future with the next generation.

As the book opens with privileged children and the worst wealthy parents ever imagined on a holiday, I wondered if Millet was offering a treatise on spoiled brats and irresponsible adults.  Jack, one of the young children, is enamored with his illustrated book of Bible tales, and Millet uses them to cleverly lull the reader into a strong message about what will happen if we all don’t shape up soon.

In his review for the Washington Post, Ron Charles says:

“A Children’s Bible” is ready to rain down God’s wrath on these hapless families. When a tremendous hurricane moves up the coast, their Gilded Age mansion is smashed by falling trees and then surrounded by polluted floodwaters. The adults panic. Confronted with gaping holes in the roof, a rising tide in the basement and no electricity, they get high, have sex, break down in fits of crying and fantasize about incremental steps they can take to fix everything. (To their credit, none of them thinks it’s a Chinese hoax.)

Amazingly, the book becomes a prophecy with stories becoming reality. Evie is the narrator (her name should offer a clue), and she tells the story with audacious humor and vicious asides. Through a flood (of biblical proportions) caused by climate change, pretty much everything in the area where the families have relocated for the summer is destroyed. To complement the Noah reference, the children save small animals in an arc. As the disintegration continues, a baby is born in a barn, a modern day crucifixion with a staple gun and a savior with a SWAT team in a rescue helicopter are among the many other biblical references.   The children morph into responsible beings as the adults continue to sabotage what world is left.

Just in case the reader has not yet connected to the message, Jack notes:

“God” is a code word. When the people in the book say God, they mean nature. What’s more, if God equals nature, then Jesus equals science. Jack makes a chart for comparison between Jesus and science: heals the sick — check; makes blind people see — check; “turns hardly any food into lots” …

“And the proof is, there’s lots the same with Jesus and science,” Jack says. “Like, for science to save us we have to believe in it.

In these days when wearing a mask can be controversial and the President of the United States claims science doesn’t always know (what causes climate change), Millet’s message could not be more timely.  And not by accident: Millet has a degree in environmental policy, and works for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity.

The Children’s Bible is shorter than I had anticipated – under 300 pages.  I’m glad Libby challenged me into reading it before my short library loan called it back, and now I understand its accolades as finalist for the 2020 National Book Award, one of New York Times’ ten best books of the year, one of Time’s ten best novels of 2020, and a New York Times and Washington Post Notable Book of 2020.

It’s not too late for activism or a return to science – or is it?

 

 

In Search of the Unknown Island

After rereading Jose Saramago’s slim Tale of the Unknown Island again this morning, I wondered if Saramago, the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, had ever found a good alternative to reality, or if he just kept searching throughout his life.

The Tale of the Unknown Island is a fifty-one page allegory with the width of my iPhone but with the breadth of a sharp and timely political treatise. Two brave people under the rule of a malevolent king find courage with one another to search for a better life.  I marked the page with the words: “this is the way fate usually treats us, it’s there right behind us, it has already reached out a hand to touch us on the shoulder while we’re still muttering to ourselves.” In the end, they sail away in a boat, content and hopeful, looking for the Unknown Island they’ve already found in each other.

I looked for Saramago’s life story and found In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, Saramago recalls the inspiration of his grandfather – “The wisest man I ever knew in my whole life could not read or write.”

Saramago recalled he wrote Blindness (a morbid tale but appropriate for our times) “to remind those who might read it that we pervert reason when we humiliate life, that human dignity is insulted every day by the powerful of our world, that the universal lie has replaced the plural truths, that man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures...trying to exorcise the monsters generated by the blindness of reason, {he} started writing the simplest of all stories: one person is looking for another, because he has realised that life has nothing more important to demand from a human being.”

Saramago’s stories are full of parables, stories with lessons civilization evidently still has to learn. Find The Tale of the Unknown Island.  This short tale may offer some hope.

Read my review of Blindness here.

Related Information: Saramago’s Nobel Lecture