March 30, 2013


by Naomi Alderman
320 pages, Little, Brown and Company

Review by J. S. Colley

I received a galley copy for review purposes.

The Liars’ Gospel is an alternative accounting of the time of Jesus. The story is told through the viewpoint of four people: Miryam (Mary), Iehuda from Qeriot (Judas), the high priest Caiaphas, and Bar-Avo (Barabbas).

This novel has the potential to offend some Christians, but I read it as simply a work of historical fiction that puts a different spin on the well-known stories. As Alderman explains: “Every story has an author, some teller of lies. Do not imagine that a storyteller is unaware of the effect of every word they choose. Do not suppose for a moment that an impartial observer exists.”

With The Liars' Gospel, Alderman explains how stories can be distorted through repeated iterations of a tale, with one detail changed or embellished—intentionally or not—with each telling, and, ultimately, changing it into something entirely different.

Alderman puts a very human face on all the participants: Mary, the forgotten mother, at times worried about her son and, at others, angry at his neglect; Caiaphas, the high priest put in place by the Romans, but servant to his flock, trying to keep the peace; Iehuda, who, after suffering a painful loss, seeks a higher meaning in life, only to be disillusioned; Barrabas, the freedom fighter whose insular focus is to expel the Romans from Jerusalem.

While the beginning was interesting, the novel hits its stride with the section on Judas. In Alderman’s expert hands, the reader feels as if they are there, in the midst of it all, with the sights, sounds, and smells.

If the (Christian) reader can overlook the obvious religious implications and read this novel simply as a story of four people during this period in history, they will be left with a stark and compelling glimpse into the human condition.

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