The New Testament comes to life in these interconnected stories about the lives of the characters on the margins of the second half of the Christian Bible—thieves, Roman soldiers, prostitutes, lepers, healers, and the occasional disciple.
As characters navigate the chaos within and without, each story bears witness to human nature and the fine-grained texture of revelation, suffering, and doubt ... Children of God exposes the turmoil of illumination, a striving that exists alongside what’s confusing, inscrutable, and seemingly contrary. Puzey’s impressive translation delivers an astounding voice to English-language literature.
Turning the last page, a reader will have little sense of what Sveen himself believes with regard to Christianity. Its neutrality seems to me a strength. Another is its indirection. Focusing primarily on minor characters from the Gospels—the Samaritan woman at the well, a crucified thief, the disciple Andrew—the book conjures more power from (and for) its shadowy central figure than it might have. It remains a story rather than a lesson. And yet, the book is almost thoroughly inert. The voices, from an abused woman to a murderer to a child, all sound exactly the same. The prose is nowhere distinguished and is occasionally absurd ... The tone aims at the severe clarity of a parable and is most effective in this mode ... But then come moments of obvious modern psychology or, worse, 'poetry,' and the effect is shattered.
Children of God is an original and unsettling text, a ruthless dismantling of the Bible ... Jesus and his disciples wander around ... often to no clear purpose, alongside imaginary biblical characters: soldiers, prostitutes, children. The stories undermine biblical composition in stylistic ways, too. The poetic cadences lack confidence. A story seems to build and coalesce only to dissolve into stammering uncertainty ... Sveen teases out every ambiguity and paradox in the biblical parables. The characters stumble into and out of enlightenment. This is the Bible as narrated not exactly by a purely evil Satan, but a skeptical, unsure-of-himself anti-Christ ... These stories never get close to redemption, or even hope. They are coldblooded assessments of our Jewish and Christian forebears.