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Damascus

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  1,281 ratings  ·  235 reviews
'They kill us, they crucify us, they throw us to beasts in the arena, they sew our lips together and watch us starve. They bugger children in front of their mothers and violate men in front of their wives. The temple priests flay us openly in the streets. We are hunted everywhere and we are hunted by everyone ...

We are despised, yet we grow. We are tortured and crucified a
...more
Kindle Edition, 321 pages
Published October 28th 2019 by Allen & Unwin
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Brian Great question! I guess it's really about the grid through which we interpret things. I think people misunderstand Paul/Saul as they don't read his wr…moreGreat question! I guess it's really about the grid through which we interpret things. I think people misunderstand Paul/Saul as they don't read his writings in their historical and theological context. It's a bit like visiting Paris without a French phrasebook! I'm not sure if people manufacture faith as such, but I do think that people exploit religious narratives for their own ends. Cheers. (less)
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Average rating 3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,281 ratings  ·  235 reviews


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Daniela
Mar 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Christos Tsiolkas reimagines Paul of Tarsus as a repressed homosexual with a penchant for violence and a nearly unbearable yearning to fit in. An outcast because of his background, and because his sexuality doesn’t allow him a family, Paul chases after heretics. The story of his conversion is not, actually, at the centre of this book. We hardly see it happening. What the reader is privy to is the before and after: how Christ changed Saul into Paul, how Christ came to change everything.

Set in a
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Rick Morton
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I probably need more time to sit with this, quite literal, Biblical undertaking. This is a wholly unique and daunting work; I can’t even fathom the work that must have gone into it. There are, as ever, the Tsiolkas meditations on class and belonging, fear and acceptance, the sense of place.

There were moments of sheer beauty and I found myself weeping for some of the characters toward the end. Reading the author’s notes on how and why he wrote this book made me view the work afresh and I am keen
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Tundra
Nov 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This a gut wrenching, magnificent novel. It’s a powerful imagining of the beginnings of the Christian faith set in a time of extreme violence, persecution and physical hardship. I needed breaks to regroup myself to continue. It is not an easy read.
Ultimately it has a lesson (like most biblical stories) that we are one humanity and we share one planet. We should remember to treat others with the respect and dignity we would like to be afforded. Casting stones is a sign of weakness not strength.

I
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Ace
Mar 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well. That was not what I was expecting, at all.

Tsiolkas created such a foul and tragic atmosphere full of slaves, refugees, starving and desperate and helpless. All of whom were at the mercy of the rich, the gods and the fears instilled into them, their cultures and their very existence. I'm going for 4 stars, although I thought he could probably have cut back on some of the profanity, but it certainly helped create the desired atmosphere.
Ben Hobson
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book left me speechless. It is absolutely incredible how Christos has woven in such compassion, history, and thought, into a narrative most people will assume they already know. Christianity is represented as the true revolutionary ideology it was - Jesus dared to claim that all people were loved by God, that there were no barriers between poor and wealthy - and Paul's struggles with his faith, his devout love, his mistakes, were all captured beautifully. This is not a didactic book in the ...more
Veronica
Oct 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brutal, beautiful, foreign and familiar.
Brian
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Damascus is the product of a dark and demented imagination. I appreciate that Damascus is fiction, but Tsiolkas’ obsession with the Gnostics and apocryphal writers (even consulting the Quran) as his sources is mystifying. Also the academics Tsolkias’ consults are atheists of varying degrees. That there is excellent critical work done on Paul within Christian academia, seems to be intentionally overlooked. Dare I say is a bit like going to a Turkish historian to get the facts on Greek history.

Al
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Rob Kidd
Nov 18, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Like the bible, but with more swear words and homoeroticism.
Maybe it was my atheism or maybe this is really really bad.
Meg T
In his Author’s Note to Damascus, Christos Tsiolkas describes his personal experiences with, and reactions to, the writings of Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus), who was a prolific contributor to the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Paul composed some of the most celebrated and beautiful descriptions of love found in literature (e.g. 1 Cor: 13), but also made homophobic observations which have informed homophobic modes of Christianity (e.g. Rom 1:26-27 and 1 Cor 6:9) For Tsiolkas, a gay man, the di ...more
Gina
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
From a very unlikely subject, this is a stunning, thought provoking, compelling read. Simply excellent.
Peter Dann
Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
Gosh, whoever would have guessed? Christos Tsiolkas' ancient world turns out to have been a smelly old place (the word "stench" occurs 17 times in this novel), people ate like animals, and sex consisted mostly of "rutting". Paul of Tarsus's conversion experience on the road to Damascus probably arose from a neurological disturbance. Despite his explicit condemnation of homosexuality in his epistles (not ever mentioned in this novel), Paul was actually a gay man in love with his helper Timothy. P ...more
Gary Daly
A quick enjoyable read. Tsiolkas in the author’s note states that he worked on the novel Damascus for five years. It’s a worthy effort and an easy read. Though it comes nowhere close to the depth of narrative and insight of Kazantzakis or Norman Mailer invigorating novels in the ‘Jesus Genre’. Damascus would I think be better enjoyed if the reader has some historical contextual background. However, I use the word ‘historical’ very loosely. More in the vein of one has a deeper knowledge and/or un ...more
Trevor
I struggled with this one, and found that the last third of the book really dragged.

I've enjoyed all of Christos Tsiolkas other books, in fact, a couple are amongst my favourite books, but this one certainly isn't one of my favourite.

Perhaps it was the story matter (it didn't grab me), or was it the writing style (so different to his other novels), anyway it will not be a book that I will return to in a hurry.

I am hoping he returns to form with his next novel.
Rosemary Atwell
Jun 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Whatever your views on Tsolkias’s take on early Christianity, his latest offering is not for the faint of heart. And yet, and yet, it offers an irresistible opportunity to return to the source (The New Testament Acts of the Apostles - particularly Chapters 9, 22 and 26) and read against the grain in order to understand the author’s vision and purpose.

‘Damascus’ is an unlikely page-turner with a physical and emotional presence that is completely overpowering. Like Patrick Susskind’s ‘Perfume,’ th
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John Banks
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
4

A powerful account of the early years of Christianity covering especially Paul but also including figures such as Thomas, Timothy and James. From the appalling squalor and violence of the first century, from amongst the downtrodden and enslaved people of Israel arises this true mythic risen Christ.

Christos Tsiolkas’ brutally powerful prose gives us the blood, shit and violence of these first century streets and lives. But in the midst of it all he provides glimpses of the grace and promise for
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Paul
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thanks to Tundra for lending me this masterpiece novel to read. Never before have I been granted a look into the real lives of those people living through the biblical period of Jesus.
His portrayal Paul, Thomas and even Jesus as real people with desires, flaws and hopes is breathtaking in the breadth of its canvas.
A truly wonderful read that kept me riveted from first page to last.
Jen
I really did my best to finish it, but struggled to make it half way through, before throwing in the towel. Definitely nothing like I imagined it was going to be ... I was reminded at times of The Name of the Rose (which I liked) but not even close to being in the same league. Judging from other reviews though, I am in the minority.
Peter Longworth
Nov 16, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I must state I did not finish this book. I painfully got up to page 285. I’d had enough. I won’t be finishing this book. Enough said.
Justin
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tsiolkas has crafted an audacious, haunting and moving fictional narrative of Saul/Paul’s life (plus a few other characters such as Lydia and Timothy), against the backdrop of a no-holds-barred depiction of the violent, cruel and brutal Greco-Roman world of the first century (think Game of Thrones meets Bible) which not only powerfully informed and enriched my contextual understanding of the New Testament, but also demonstrated the radically subversive nature of the message of Jesus Christ.
Cass Moriarty
Aug 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Christos Tsiolkas is heralded as one of Australia’s greatest contemporary storytellers. His works are meticulously researched, his characters carefully crafted and his themes are considered and profound. His latest novel Damascus (Allen and Unwin 2019) is on many levels a triumph of literary achievement: a re-imagined, epic and powerful retelling of the events surrounding the establishment of the Christian church. The narrative is based on the letters of St Paul and focuses on Paul (Saul) and se ...more
Zoe Colvin
Christos Tsiolkas is best known for his novel The Slap, which tells the story of a group of friends who go to a barbecue and disagree when one of them slaps the child of another. I thought the concept was clever, but I hated the characters, who seemed vulgar and grasping and driven by startlingly forceful sexual appetites.

All the same, I did recognise that Tsiolkas writes energetically and has original ideas, which is why, when I saw his latest novel in a bookshop in Sydney, I bought it - that
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MisterHobgoblin
I didn't really bond with Damascus - which is a pity because Christos Tsiolkas's last novel Barracuda was brilliant.

Damascus is the story of St Paul from his youth persecuting Christians through his conversion, his ministry and his immediate legacy. We see life from Paul's own viewpoint and also three other perspectives: Lydia, Vrasas and Timothy. As a character driven novel with such varied perspectives, we should really feel we've got to know Paul. But the whole novel feels as though it is se
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Sheree | Keeping Up With The Penguins
I loved Christos Tsiolkas’s 2008 novel The Slap, but I knew just looking at the blurb of Damascus that it was going to be very different: “a work of immense power and epic scope, taking as its subject nothing less than the events surrounding the birth and establishment of the Christian church”. Allen & Unwin sent me a copy for review, and I was happy to take a giant leap out of my comfort zone.

I’m a big ol’ heathen, so I didn’t have a lot of religious context for what was happening. To me, it al
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Benjamin Farr
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Lots to think about with this excellent novel.

Longing, doubt, love, devotion, faith: an exploratory look at the early decades after the death of Jesus and the struggling Christian cult that arose. Tsiolkas examines the chaos and confusion of the early Christians and how their faith both sustained and traumatised them.

I look forward to seeing this book win many awards in the coming year/s.
Gail
Nov 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. I couldn’t put this book down! This book contextualises the first 4 generations of what is today known as the Christian Church - not yet a rich, powerful and conservative force in the world, it is a small heretical, weird ‘death loving’ sect already developing internal schisms. The focus is a trinity of men - Paul, Timothy and Thomas - 3 men, not saints, learning, ageing, battling doubt, loss and persecution as they wait for the return of their Saviour.
Jane
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book humanizes St. Paul and we see and feel his mental torment. Earthy, sometimes gruesome, and depressing but beautifully written. More a series of vignettes, some treating facets of Paul and another three entitled Faith, Hope, and Love. These last ones concentrate on other characters: Vrasas, Paul's jailer, a devout pagan; Lydia, a Christian convert and her sad life; and St. Timothy, Paul's bosom friend and secretary. A hard book to like but recommended.
Nick Parkinson
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
I keep going back to Christos Tsiolkas. I think this is because few other novelists—at least in Australia—write so honestly about shame.

Shame rears its head in Damascus too. Strangely though, the shame is less so about homosexuality in this work (although it is there). Instead, shame swells when Vrasas cannot father a son, when Timothy’s faith waivers, and when Saul realises the extent of his estrangement from his family. Even Jesus/Yeshua’s crucifixion is depicted as a deeply shameful event,
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Sharon Taylor
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read_in_2020
This was hard to read in that it was brutal and raw. Humans can do such terrible things to others in the name of their faith. But it also demonstrated the strength of faith and love in early Christianity. Not really sure how I feel about it yet. I’ll take some time to digest it.
Clare
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5, rounded down because CT includes three pages of the ‘ramble without a full stop to show some kind of fervour’ literary trope that I HATE.

Other than that, this was excellent. It did a great job of exploring and depicting the truly transgressive nature of the early church, and also showing just how horrific being of the lower castes in the Roman era could be (serious violence warning, lots of rape and children dying).
Phillip
A strong first half of the book but I lost a bit of interest and momentum towards the end. An interesting explanation is offered for the development of early Christianity, but you need a strong constitution to cope with the violence and gore.
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Christos Tsiolkas is the author of nine novels: Loaded, which was made into the feature film Head-On, The Jesus Man and Dead Europe,which won the 2006 Age Fiction Prize and the 2006 Melbourne Best Writing Award. He won Overall Best Book in the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2009, was shortlisted for the 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award, long listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and won the Australi ...more

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“Over the years Saul has heard of Yeshua's teaching and they never made any sense to him: sometimes he had preached as a devout Jew, but at others spoke as an apostate. He had some learning but no understanding, and he did not keep faith with the Lord's sacred words. That was why his followers had been led astray into blasphemy and perversion. That was why Saul spied on them, bore witness against them. But now he is in their house and they have saved him” 0 likes
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