Emily's Reviews > Jerusalém

Jerusalém by Gonçalo M. Tavares
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Mar 10, 12

bookshelves: 2012, fiction, men-authors, translated, best-of-2012
Read from March 08 to 10, 2012

On the back cover, Jerusalem is described as taking place “one morning late in May, between three and six a.m.” but in reality it sweeps in and out of other times in a way that gives the story a much broader scope than I expected. The plot has a rhythmic feeling as it circles from character to character, in and out of days, between decades, first focusing closely on one person’s thoughts at a precise moment in time, then zooming out for a larger picture. Terminally ill Mylia tries to find a church that is open, Hinnerk stalks the alleys with a gun concealed under his shirt, a boy sets out in search of his father as his father sets out in search of a prostitute.

The character’s histories and their interactions on that fateful early morning in May are set against descriptions of the ongoing “scientific” research of Theodor Busbeck. He studies atrocities inflicted by one group of people on another, graphing “the distribution of horror over the centuries” in an attempt to find a pattern:

"I’m fairly certain that I’ll end up seeing a consistent pattern spread out in curves like an electrocardiogram, that’s right, like the beating of a healthy person’s heart, and it’s exactly that distribution curve that I’m looking for, the predictable pattern of history’s heart…”

The themes—health and sickness, religion, good and evil—are universal despite the uniqueness of the story. The author wrestles with issues of morality and ethics in a way that, in my mind, sets Jerusalem apart from most of the literary fiction currently being published in the US. Saramago’s quote on the front cover (to the effect of “this guy writes so well I want to punch him!”) had me expecting similarities between the two authors; they were there, but I didn’t realize it until the end.

Joseph Walser’s Machine and Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique, which together with Jerusalem form a series, will also be published by Dalkey Archive. I’m trying to keep my itchy fingers away from the preorder button on their website.
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