I’ve heard great things about Tsiolkas’ writing and even though two of his earlier books (The Slap and Barracuda) were very popular and both made into tv series, I still hadn’t gotten around to reading any of his writing. So, after hearing his interview on Conversations with Richard Fidler (best interviewer around!) about the process for writing his latest book, I decided then and there to read it.
I’m happy to report it was a very good decision and I need to go back and read his other works.
Damascus comes in at over 400 pages and I read it over the course of a few days. It’s a personalised fiction account from the point of view of a handful of people at the beginning of Christianity, when it was still deemed an underground sect and followers risked their lives to be a part of it. The stories are based around the gospels and letters of St Paul, and other characters within one or two generations of the birth of Christ. They paint a vivid picture of life in the Middle East in the first century A.D.
It was eye opening to read about how people lived then, through the experiences of people themselves rather than as a dry history lesson. I was unnerved by the horrific way people could treat each other in the name of ‘class’ or religion, and especially by the abandonment of newborn babies who didn’t make it into the ‘worth keeping’ category.
It wasn’t all negative, though, and there were demonstrations of love between people that would not be widely accepted in our times as they’re outside the ‘norms’ of a two-person relationship. It was nice to read that at least there was some joy to be had in hard times.
I probably didn’t take in as much about the evolution of the religion of Christianity as I should have because I was much more interested in the way lives were lived. I think there was also something about the Roman Empire taking over but my brain just can’t handle that much history.
I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about what it was like to live 2000 years ago, the onset of Christianity, or both.