Simon & Schuster Posts

Lidia Yuknavitch “The Misfit’s Manifesto”

No one is perfect. No one got where they are without occasionally falling to pieces. Maybe it’s time we admit that we need all of us for any of us to make it. 

Lidia Yuknavitch is a successful author now. Well-respected in literary circles. But there was a time in her past when she was a misfit.

I’d say I’m a misfit partly because of the things that happened to me, and partly from things that come from the inside out.

Hardwiring, if you will. 

She had had a tough life. Stormy childhood with an abusive father and bickering parents. Two bad marriages of her own. My her own admission her life took a nosedive when her daughter was a stillborn. She began substance abuse. Rehab. Was arrested. Incarcerated. Slowly and steadily she put her life back together again.

Her dream of becoming a writer slowly began to come true when she was in her early thirties. Lidia sent a short story “The Chronology of Water” about how her daughter’s death nearly killed her and saving her father from drowning even though he had abused her sister and her. She sent the story for admission to an MFA course at Columbia University, to the hiring committee at a tenure-track teaching position in writing at San Diego State University; to Literary Arts in Oregon as a writing sample for a grant; and to Poets & Writers as a writing sample for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award. Lidia struck gold. She won all four. She had to reject the MFA as a job is what she needed.

I swallowed the desire to name myself as a writer who would go to Columbia. Prestige was not my name. Get a job was my name. 

The Poets & Writers Award gave her the opportunity to go to NYC to meet editors and writers. Lidia chose to meet Carole Maso, Peggy Phelan, Lynne Tillman, and Eurydice.

These now over fifty-year-old women writers were so intelligent, so creative, so gorgeous and present in their own minds and bodies. …These women were so alive in their minds. Maybe it sounds weird but I’d never experienced that before. 

Since then she has gone on to win awards and publish many notable books of her own such as The Small Backs of Children and The Book of Joan. She returned to school and studied for her PhD. She began teaching once more. She also got married once more and has a son.

It was almost as if my life was moving to that foreign word, successful.

Lidia Yuknavitch gave a TED Talk in February 2016 on “The Beauty of Being a Misfit”. It was later converted into a book, published by Simon & Schuster — The Misfit’s Manifesto. It includes testimonies of other people whom society would consider as “misfits” but Lidia discovers live life on the edge but in their own wacky way are fulfilling and rewarding.

A conversation between Kit De Waal and Lidia Yuknavitch  would be promising. There are so many points of common interest apart from which they too come across as women who are “so alive in their minds”.

The Misfit’s Manifesto is an absorbing book, at times terrifying for the experiences Lidia Yuknavitch shares, while filled with hope and  optimism.

Lidia Yuknavitch The Misfit’s Manifesto  TEDBooks, Simon & Schuster UK, London, 2017. Hb. pp. 150 Rs 350 

29 April 2018 

 

 

 

Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run”

Writing about yourself is a funny business. At the end of the day it’s just another story, the story you’ve chosen from the events of your life. I haven’t told you “all” about myself. Discretion and the feelings of others don’t allow it. But in a project like this, the writer has made one promise: to show the reader his mind. In these pages I’ve tried to do that. 

Reading memoirs and autobiographies of musicians and rockstars is always fascinating. It contains oodles of gossip and magnificent back stories on how iconic songs were created, performed or relationships forged and broken.  For a long time histories of rock music were seen as popular literature and not necessarily given their due space in mainstream publishing. There could have been innumerable reasons for it but the whole notion of pop and rock music is a relatively recent phenomenon. Post-war the explosive music of rock and roll musicians like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Beatles, et al was hugely influential but also path breaking in their experimentation within traditions of music. So histories of rock musicians are also fascinating social accounts of the evolution of music and a rapidly changing society. Bruce Springsteen’s long awaited memoir  Born to Run is deliciously rich for exactly these reasons. It is magnificent for its focused structure, fantastically breezy storytelling ( years of practice as a songwriter?), the ability to know exactly how much to present in words much as a seasoned performer  knows exactly how much to deliver to his audience, and to write a memoir in the good old-fashioned literary style.

Most of my writing is emotionally autobiographical. I’ve learned you’ve got to pull up the things that mean something to you in order for them to mean anything to your audience. 

While writing Born to Run Bruce Springsteen gives as “frank” an account is possible of his childhood and his desire to be a musician. It was watching “this hip-shaking human earthquake” Elvis Presely perform on the Ed Sullivan show ( actually it was Charles Laughton covering for Ed who was recovering from an accident) that changed Bruce Springsteen forever. He wanted “THE GUITAR” too. The next day he convinced his mother to rent a guitar for him. “I smelled blood.” He was six.

His co-musicians remarked that Bruce Springsteen was to be admired for his determination to succeed as a musician and never did he work at anything else. It was music all the way. For a man who has never learned to read music ( like George Gershwin) Bruce Springsteen has had an extremely successful career and he is grateful for it. He is very aware that “we were rock’s early third generation”. At the cusp of the best of rock’s reinventors of blues, pop and soul, the British wave, yet young enough to experience its originators. Also Springsteen and his band were able to experience the punk explosion of the late seventies and hip-hop in the eighties….”yet the band was unique: the cross-tensions of the fifties blue-collar world and sixties social experience clashing and melding in our music. We are pre- and post-hippie sixties soul survivors. It’s a blend that won’t exactly exist firsthand anymore when we’re done. The world and society changes too quickly and too much.”

Born to Run took Bruce Springsteen seven years to write. According to a wondeful profile published in Vanity Fair the genesis of this memoir originated in a few scribbles Bruce Springsteen wrote after performing at the Super Bowl half-time.

The germ of Born to Run, the book, lies in a short, diaristic piece Springsteen wrote for his Web site in 2009, afterbruce-springsteen-october-2016-cover he and the E Street Band played the halftime show of Super Bowl XLIII. The logistics and pressure of doing the 12-minute show threw even as battle-tested a performer as Springsteen for a loop, and he thought the experience would make for a good yarn to share. “Fifteen minutes . . . oh, by the way, I’m somewhat terrified,” he wrote in one passage. “It’s not the usual pre-show jitters, not ‘butterflies,’ not wardrobe malfunction nervousness, I’m talking about five minutes to beach landing, ‘Right Stuff,’ ‘Lord Don’t Let Me Screw the Pooch in Front of 100 Million People,’ ‘One of the biggest television audiences since dinosaurs first screwed on earth’ kind of terror.”

Doing the Super Bowl show, Springsteen said, led him to discover a “pretty good voice to write in.” With time on his hands after the big game, he kept at it, writing down vignettes from his life in longhand while he and Scialfa were staying in Florida, where their daughter, Jessica, a competitive equestrian, was participating in show-jumping events. He was pleased with the results. In fits and starts, back at home in New Jersey and on tour over the next seven years, a full-blown, 500-page autobiography eventually took shape, with no ghost or collaborator. Every word in the book is his own.  ( David Kamp “Cover Story: The Book of Bruce Springsteen” Photographs by Annie Leibovitz, October 2016 http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2016/09/bruce-springsteen-cover-story#1)

Like a veteran storyteller Bruce Springsteen is able to offer a judicious mix of the personal and his professional life to his fans. His revelations include his coming to terms with his Catholicism which for a long time he had rebelled against. But then bemusedly he understands that “once you’re a Catholic, you’re always a Catholic. I don’t often participate in my religion but I know somewhere … deep inside…I’m still on the team.

This was the world where I found the beginnings of my song. In Catholicism, there existed the poetry, danger and darkness that reflected my imagination and my inner self. I found a land of great and harsh beauty, of fantastic stories, of unimaginable punishment and infinite reward. It was a glorious and pathetic place I was either shaped for or fit right into. It has walked alongside me as a waking dream my whole life. So as a young adult I tried to make sense of it.”

Springsteen also bravely reveals the challenges he has faced while tackling his depression. Mental ill-health being an inheritance from his father. “The fire in me felt like it had gone out and I felt dark and hollow inside. Bad thoughts had a heyday. …You feel the thinness of the veil of your identity and an accompanying panic that seems to be just around the corner….I couldn’t get out of bed.”

Born to Run is a title chosen deliberately by Springsteen as an acknowledgement to his legendary music album. Yet it epitomizes his life well. His desire to escape from the poverty and squalor of his working-class childhood home (but not necessarily the deep love and familial affection he received) to performing on the road nonstop with enviable amounts of stamina and energy and becoming a multimillionaire who own a horse farm now. Today he is sixty-seven and still performing live including a concert in summer 2016 that lasted for nearly four and a half hours. Incredibly too and a fact that he is rightly proud of “I’m one of the few artists from those days who owns everything he ever created. All my records are mine. All my songs are mine. It’s rare and it’s a good feeling. ” This is when stories such as of Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker, who earned notoriety for pocketing most of the singer’s earnings are legendary.

Born to Run is a memoir written with passion and a raw energy reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen the singer and performer. It is a delight to read since it is evident that Springsteen has a critical and sharp understanding of his place in the long line of musicians while happily acknowledging the love for his family. He is at peace with the choices he made and continues to make.

This is a book not to be missed.

Bruce Springsteen Born to Run Simon & Schuster UK, London, 2016. Hb. pp. 520 Rs 799

26 Oct 2016

 

Alec Ross “The Industries of the Future”

The day history is made in USA with Hillary Clinton becoming the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee and endorsed by outgoing President of the USA, Barack Obama it is worth looking at Alec Ross’s book The Industries of the Future. Alec Ross served as Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor for innovation while she was Secretary of State. Before working for Clinton, Alec Ross had worked as the convenor for technology and media policy on the Obama campaign that beat her in the 2008 presidential primary.

Alec Ross’s The Industries of the Future is a fascinating account of how much innovation is taking place in the world,Alec Ross in geographical corners that are mostly hidden from media view. He discusses robotics, genomics, cyber security, digital technology and finance, blockchains and bitcoins, etc. This is the kind of book that will be a reference document now to understand innovations and will have a long shelflife for its historical value in contextualising and explaining innovations that will define twenty-first century. What comes across strongly is that Alex Ross does not view innovations as disruptive but with wide-eyed wonder at the business potential and positive socio-economic impact these measures will have in future. Today it may seem as if these innovations are nudging just the limits of that is plausible yet many of these practices/ predictions are slowly coming true in one’s lifetime. Much like the automatic sliding doors of Gene Roddenberry’s stories of the 1960s were considered to be innovative are now very common in modern life.

Here is a wonderful interview with Alex Ross by Jinoy Jose P in the Hindu Businessline : http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/the-future-world/article8544279.ece . It was published on 1 May 2016.

Alex Ross’s book is truly stupendous. Hilary Clinton will do well to have him return to her team. Meanwhile read it. Buy it.

Alex Ross Industries of the Future Simon & Schuster, London, 2016. Pb. pp. 310 Rs 599

10 June 2016 

 

Harry Potter Colouring Books

No more a child’s play!

Harry Potter Colouring BooksColouring books have achieved phenomenal success in a very short time which clearly indicates that the child within us refuses to grow. In a recent study, it’s revealed that these books are great solution to bring relaxation in our lifes. People tend to forget their worries and work load as they get engross in exquisite scenes and patterns.

According to Amazon as well, the top selling books are not fiction, classics or sci-fi but adult colouring books! and

We are delighted to bring you the magic of Harry Potter in the form of colouringHP Colouring Book books from Insight Editions.

Insight Editions creates illustrated books of distinction that celebrate cultural milestones in entertainment, history, and the arts. These lavishly produced and visually stimulating volumes are dedicated to the skillful interplay of word and image. Elegant and informative, books from Insight Editions showcase the best of art and photography in exquisite presentations of the bookmaker’s craft.

Let the child within you get the taste of this magical potion.

Priced at Rs. 799/- each

 

Bharti Taneja

Simon & Schuster India

Bharti.Taneja@simonandschuster.co.in

20 Feb 2016

Naveed Jamali & Ellis Henican “How to Catch a Russian Spy”

how-to-catch-a-russian-spy-9781476788821_lgNaveed Jamali’s book How to Catch a Russian Spy documents his life as a double agent. He worked with the FBI but led the Russians to believe that he was working for them. For him, especially after 9/11, as a first-generation American, born of immigrant parents Naveed was keen to serve his country. Ideally he wanted to use his knowledge about computers in Naval intelligence but he failed to pass the test. So when an opportunity presented itself or rather he made it happen, it was the nearest to a dream come true — of being a spy. Having grown up reading spy novels, watching TV shows about undercover work and the James Bond series he was very enthusiastic about spying. Plus, he had the good fortune of his parents company — Books & Research — being strategically significant. It had for more than two decades been visited frequently by American and Russian agents in search of difficult-to-find books and articles.

How to Catch a Russian Spy details the three years Naveed Jamali spent working as a double agent. It is part-autobiography and part-documentation recording those significant years. The operation concluded happily for him. Once the Russian spy Naveed was associated with had been captured, Naveed was made a member of the Reserve force of Naval Intelligence. This book has been so popular that it has already been translated into a few languages and Fox has optioned the film rights as well.

Despite the Cold War having finished many years ago the fascination with spies continues to capture everyone’s imagination. Given how every two years a new Bond film appears to a resounding success and in 2015 the publication of How to Catch a Russian Spy has coincided with the release of the master of spy thrillers, John Le’ Carre’s biography and with the discovery that there was probably a sixth member in the famous Cambridge Five spy circle, Naveed Jamali’s true story is a very fashionable. Unfortunately for all the “truth” it engages with in telling a story how a Russian spy was caught on American soil in the twenty-first century, the book lacks the punchy zippiness associated with spy novels. Instead How to Catch a Russian Spy conveys the boyish starry-eyed wonder of Naveed Jamali at finding himself at the centre of a real-life spy story very well. Naveed is never quite able to get rid of that feeling and who can blame him!

Having said that it is a pleasant read. The film should be interesting to watch.

Naveed Jamali & Ellis Henican “How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent” Simon & Schuster, London, 2015. Pb. pp. 300. Rs. 699 

Literati: A Spiderweb of Yarns ( 14 November 2015)

jaya_bhattacharji-300x300My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online on 14 November 2015 and in print on 15 November 2015). Here is the http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/a-spiderweb-of-yarns/article7872752.ece. I am also c&p the text below. )

The old lady chuckled. “Each story that sinks into the book becomes a part of an ancient spiderweb full of stories.”

“As more stories are added in, the spiderweb gets bigger and bigger and bigger until it forms an invisible blanket that covers every city and town, every village and every forest. And when someone who is walking by touches the web accidently, stories will flow into their head and from their head to their fingers and from their fingers on to paper…”

(Suraya’s Gift: The Story Catcher Children by Malavika Nataraj. A chapter book published by Puffin Books)

Suraya's GiftSuraya has been given an exquisitely designed blank notebook by her aunt. She scribbles stories in it for a while only to abandon it. Later, unable to locate it she encounters the Story Catcher who tells Suraya the book has been passed on to another child who has better use for it. Malavika Nataraj’s is a stunning debut.

Ranjit LalThe importance of stories can never be stressed enough. Ranjit Lal’s new novel Our Nana was a Nutcase (Red Turtle) is about Nana, who is bringing up his daughter’s four children. (Their parents are busy diplomats.) It is a super brilliant, sensitively told novel about the children witnessing their Nana’s gradual decline with Alzheimer’s, their coming to terms with it and slowly realising they have to be the caregivers for their Nana. A similar story about the heartwarming relationship between grandfather and grandson is found in the bittersweet David Walliam’s David Walliamsbestseller Grandpa’s Great Escape (HarperCollins).

Stephen AlterStephen Alter’s slim novella The Secret Sanctuary (Puffin Books) is a little beauty too. It introduces three school children to the magic within a forest they tumble into while walking to school. It is a secret sanctuary where they can be in close proximity to the animals without the beasts being aware of their existence. They discover nuggets of information from the naturalist, Dr. Mukherjee.

MananManan (HarperCollins) by Mohit Parikh is an “odd little tale” as he calls it. Manan attains puberty and is fascinated how reaching this milestone changes his perspective on life, transforming him in more ways than one. It is a first novel about an ordinary family in a small town.

MunnuMunnu: A Boy from Kashmir (HarperCollins), a graphic novel by Malik Sajad with autobiographical elements, is already causing a stir internationally. Sajad anthropomorphises the Hangul deer to tell the chilling account of being a young boy in Kashmir when it was torn apart by conflict. Munnu capitalises upon his excellent drawing skills to draw political cartoons.

Some other examples of well-told stories are: Scholastic India’s annual offering For Kids by Kids featuring short stories by young writers between the ages of 10 and 16. Paro Anand’s Like Smoke (Penguin Books), a revised edition of her young adult stories Wild Child; Parismita Singh’s stupendous graphic story retelling the Naga folktale Mara and the Clay Cows (Tulika); Karishma Attari’s debut novel I See You (Penguin Books), a chilling horror set in Mumbai, and the gorgeously produced retelling of the Baburnama called The Story of Babur by Parvati Sharma, illustrated by baburUrmimala Nag (co-published by Good Earth and Puffin Books). Scholastic’s Branches book series like Dragon MastersThe Notebook of Doom and Owl Diaries ( http://www.scholastic.com/branches/), and Simon and Schuster’s travelogue series Greetings from Somewhere ( http://www.simonandschuster.com/series/Greetings-from-Somewhere) with helpful illustrations, easy-to-read text and simple plot lines designed for newly independent readers, are strong on storytelling Wimpy Kidtoo. Then there is the astoundingly popular Jeff Kinney, whose Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School within a week of its release has already sold 100,000 copies in India. Timed with its release has been the launch of the Puffin Car that will be used to build excitement about books and the habit of reading among children.

For Kids By Kids 2015

***

Stories have a way of working their way into becoming a part of one’s mental furniture and creating cultural landscapes that stay forever. A wonderful example to ensure stories continue to be shared is the “Libromat” in South Africa bringing together laundry and reading established by social entrepreneurs from Oxford University.  ( http://www.libromat.com/ )Inspired by a study that said dialogic book-sharing is an interactive form of shared reading (http://1.usa.gov/1MVTK7E), an early childhood development centre in Khayelitsha was outfitted with washers and dryers, and the women were trained to read with their children. libromat-inhabitots

( Note: Images used on this page are off the Internet. I do not own the copyright to them.)

15 November 2015 

Siddhartha Mukherjee, “The Laws of Medicine”

The-Laws-of-Medicine-216x300

Siddhartha Mukherjee is a thinking medical practitioner who is constantly researching, evaluating, placing within historical context and evolving his engagement with medicine. Every time you listen to him deliver a public lecture ( http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/siddharth-mukherjee-27-april-2014/ ) or read his books  ( The Emperor of All Maladies: The biography of Cancer), he makes his discipline accessible.   It is not confined to some hallow portals of obscure terms. Siddhartha Mukherjee like Atul Gawande, Abraham Varghese and Preeti Rebecca John are a minority in their fraternity. They work every day in their hospitals but they are also able to look at their discipline in an objective manner and comment upon it.  More importantly they are bringing the discourse about health into the very middle of society.

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s latest book The Laws of Medicine is part of the TED Talks imprint published by Simon & Schuster. The concept is very simple. TED Talk books take off from where the public lecture concluded. So The Laws of Medicine is a continuation of the TED Talk Siddhartha Mukherjee delivered in March 2015. “Soon we’ll cure diseases with a cell, not a pill” TED Talks, March 2015 and here is the link to the interactive transcript http://bit.ly/1O0AcPn

Listen to it. Also read the book if you can. As the author says, “This book is about information, imperfection, uncertainty, and the future of medicine.” But it is also much more. It is about the human being forever being on alert, looking for information and details everywhere and not becoming complacent, letting machines, technology and others do the thinking for you. The brain continues to be important. Apply it to any discipline.

Siddhartha Mukherjee The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes from an Uncertain Science Simon & Schuster, London, 2015. Hb. pp.80 Rs 299

25 Oct 2015 

Press Release: SIMON & SCHUSTER UK TO PUBLISH STAN LEE GRAPHIC MEMOIR

Simon and Schuster Logo

SIMON & SCHUSTER UK TO PUBLISH STAN LEE GRAPHIC MEMOIR

May 21, 2015—POW! Entertainment’s Stan Lee, the legendary creator who helped spawn some of the world’s most popular comic book heroes – The Amazing Spider-Man™, The Fantastic Four™, The X-Men™, Iron Man™, The Incredible Hulk™, and many more – is teaming up with Simon & Schuster UK and Touchstone on his first-ever graphic memoir AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE: A Marvelous Memoir, which will be published on October 6, 2015. A simultaneous audio edition will be published by Simon & Schuster Audio. S&S UK will also publish a deluxe slipcase ‎edition.

In this unique, richly illustrated book, Lee tells the story of his extraordinary life with the same inimitable energy and offbeat spirit that he brought to the world of comics. The full-colour graphic memoir will recount his life’s major flashpoints, from his hardscrabble upbringing in Washington Heights, New York to his rise as the lead writer and editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics during its most prolific era in the 1960s and 70s. From the very beginning, working with the great Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, to creating Spider-Man with Steve Ditko, to his most recent cameo in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” fans will read about every aspect of Lee’s remarkable career.  AMAZING FANTASTIC INCREDIBLE will be illustrated by celebrated comic book artist Colleen Doran, whom Stan Lee handpicked for this one-of-a-kind project.

“As Marvel just celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary, I thought maybe it’s time for a look at my life in the one form it has never been depicted, as a comic book…or if you prefer, a graphic memoir,” said Stan Lee. “It strikes me as a horrendous oversight that I haven’t done it before! If I didn’t know everything about my life already, I’d envy your voyage of discovery!”

Stan Lee is a man who needs no introduction. Nevertheless: having begun his career with wartime Timely Comics and staying the course throughout the Atlas era, Stan Lee made comic book history with Fantastic Four #1, harbinger of a bold new perspective in story writing that endures to this day. With some of the industry’s greatest artists, he introduced hero after hero in Incredible Hulk™, Iron Man™, Amazing Spider-Man™, X-Men™, and more, forming a shared universe for rival publishers to measure themselves against.

After nearly a lifetime of writing and editing, Lee is now involved in an array of new projects with his company POW! Entertainment. Based in Beverly Hills, POW! Entertainment has been amassing a library of new characters, some already set up at studios and networks, including an animated series, mobile game, the first young adult novel with illustrations of a trilogy with Disney, and a slate of Indian and Chinese films in development. POW! Entertainment also manages all licensing deals and has its own comic book convention, Comikaze, which drew more than 50,000 attendees at the Los Angeles Convention Center last year. Stan remains Marvel’s Chairman Emeritus and best-known public representative.

Iain MacGregor, Non-Fiction Publishing Director at S&S UK, bought UK & Commonwealth rights from Matthew Benjamin, Senior Editor at Touchstone S&S US, who acquired world rights from the Susan Crawford Literary Agency.

POW! Entertainment Inc. (OTCQB:POWN) is a multi-media entertainment company founded by noted comic book writer Stan Lee together with award-winning producer Gill Champion and the late intellectual property specialist Arthur Lieberman. POW!’s principals have extensive backgrounds in the creation and production of original intellectual properties, including some of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time.  POW! is utilizing Stan Lee’s historical background by perpetuating his legacy while creating and developing all new live-action films, television, digital games, merchandising, licensing and related ancillary markets, all of which contribute to global expansion.  POW! Partners with third parties and strategic alliances, including studios and networks, in the production and distribution of new POW! character franchises.  For more information, visit http://www.powentertainment.com/.

 

For more information, please contact Bharti Taneja, Manager – Marketing & Publicity

Bharti.taneja@simonandschuster.co.in

22 May 2015

Ian Caldwell, “The Fifth Gospel”

the-fifth-gospel-9781451694147_hrNever had I seen a book made that way. Like a prehistoric creature found living at the bottom of the sea, it bore only the faintest resemblance to its modern cousins. The manuscript’s cover was made with a sheet of skin hanging off like a satchel flap, designed to wrap around the pages again and again, to protect them. A leather tail dangled from it, beltlike, looping around the book to cinch it closed. 

I undid the straps as carefully as if I were arranging hairs on a baby’s head. Inside, the pages were gray and soft. Flowing letters were penned in long, smooth strokes with no rounded edges: Syriac. Beside them. inked right there on the page, was a Latin index written by some long-dead Vatican librarian. 

Formerly Book VIII among the Nitrian Syriac collection.

And then, very clearly:

Gospel Harmony of Tatian (Diatessaron).

A shudder went through me. Here in my hands was the creature invented by one of the giants of early Christianity. The canonical life of Jesus of Nazareth in a single book. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John fused together to form the super-gospel of the ancient Syrian church. 

( p.60-1)

Ian Caldwell’s second novel, The Fifth Gospel is a Vatican thriller which took more than a decade to write. The story revolves around the Vatican hosting an exhibition in the hope of earning some revenue. It promises to be an exciting one since it is about one of the oldest relics in Christianity — the Turin Shroud. It also involves the possibility of exhibiting the Diatessaron, discovered in the library. But a week before the exhibition is to open, the curator, Ugo Nogara, is found dead on the grounds of  Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace. The body is discovered by his friend the Roman Catholic priest Simon Andreou, who is soon joined by his younger brother, Father Alex Andreou, a Greek Catholic priest. Thus begins the murder investigation, implicating Father Simon Andreou. He is to be tried by a Vatican court. Meanwhile Father Alex Andreou is determined to get to the truth. Unfortunately there are moments when not only does he expose himself, but also his five-year-old son Peter, to danger, but the little fellow is made of  quite stern stuff. ( Father Alex Andreou being a Greek Catholic priest is allowed to marry unlike his brother who remains a celibate.)

The Fifth Gospel is a fascinating account of life within the Vatican, a murder mystery, duplicity of the Vatican, the complexity of theology, the fascination with relics, and of course, the importance of family — related by blood or the banding together of the priests to create a sense of family. It is a stunning book. The details of daily life at the Vatican and the intricate and rich backdrop to the plot are mesmerising to read about. The reading experience is enriched by the deft characterisation — many of them such as Simon, Peter, Alex, Uncle Lucio, his secretary Diego, and even minor characters such as Alex’s friend Swiss Guard Leo, Alex’s wife Mona and Alex’s childhood friend Gianni Nardi remain memorable. They exist with you even after the novel is finished.

The twelve years spent by Ian Caldwell in research and writing show in the details of the literary landscape and the court scenes all though the murder mystery plot is basic. Yet it does not make the story any less gripping. What makes it even more astounding is that Ian Caldwell has never visited the Vatican. As he says in the KLTA5 interview, he has a young family and it would have been impossible to leave them for long periods to do his research in Italy. He was required at home. So he did the next best thing. He interviewed, met, spoke and discussed  with many priests, canonists, professors, seminary instructors, Church lawyers, and prominent Catholic scholars who answered all his questions in detail “but sometimes spoke openly about their experiences at the Vatican”. (p.430) It is an interesting coincidence that within a week of this novel being released, and its focus on the acrimony and hostility that Christian relics can create within the church, the New York Times publishes an article on 4 April 2015, “Findings Reignite Debate on Claim of Jesus’ Bones”. It is about two ancient artifacts that have set off a fierce archaeological and theological debate. At the heart of the quarrel is an assortment of inscriptions that led some to suggest Jesus of Nazareth was married and fathered a child, and that the Resurrection could never have happened. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/world/middleeast/findings-reignite-debate-on-claim-of-jesus-bones.html?_r=0 ) Timely perhaps, blurring the lines between the worlds of reality and fiction.

Despite having a convenient and a satisfactory conclusion it is a novel worth spending time with. The Fifth Gospel may be written in a similar vein to a Dan Brown mystery, but it is far superior.

Buy it.

Some links worth browsing through:

A Q&A With Ian Caldwell, Author of March’s #1 Indie Next List Pick By Sydney Jarrard on Tuesday, Mar 03, 2015 http://www.bookweb.org/news/qa-ian-caldwell-author-march%E2%80%99s-1-indie-next-list-pick

KTLA5: New Book Reveals Vatican Life POSTED 9:24 AM, MARCH 26, 2015, BY NANCY CRUZ http://ktla.com/2015/03/26/new-book-reveals-vatican-life/

Ian Caldwell at the House of SpeakEasy on March 9, 2015, at New York’s City Winery. https://vimeo.com/122093010

7 March 2015

Ian Caldwell The Fifth Gospel Simon & Schuster, London, 2015. Pb. pp. 450 £12.99

 

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