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Written by the Irish author Colm Tóibín, The Testament of Mary transports its readers to the dark and gloomy period that surrounded Jesus Christ crucification. It’s a revisionist personal account of the infamous events that led to the crucifixion of Christ and how it affected the lives of people who saw it. The narrator is none other than Christ’s own mother.
“The boy became a man and left home and became a dying figure hanging on a cross. I want to be able to imagine that what happened to him will not come, it will see us and decide – not now, not them. And we will be left in peace to grow old.”
Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is old now and is leading a bleak existence after the rise of her son as the Son of God (which she refuses to accept). Surrounded by his numerous followers, Christ, to Mary, has become like a stranger to her, so much so that she can’t even refer to him by his name. She confides in herself, as no one else cares about her, apart from the fact that she is indeed the mother of their messiah.
She is regularly visited by two men. Neither of them has the slightest respect for her and each only wants her side of the story so as to put it in the gospels, which as they say will “change the world”. But she’s reluctant to tell them anything. She only wants to reunite with her son. Not the one that the world now knows as the Son of God but the innocent and feeble one who couldn’t even walk without his mother’s support. She is nostalgic and often thinks about her dead husband and the lives they had before the transformation of their son into a big messiah. With the passage of time she’s become a keen observer who sees and remembers everything.
The poignant account of the crucifixion by Mary is heartbreaking and this traumatic event scars her for life. After that, she’s left with a void which she often fills with false hope and lucid dreams that are a surreal mix of fact and fantasy. At one point she even admits that she feels hollow now that there’s no catastrophe to worry about.
The narration is powerful and gripping. Simple details are given to small things which more than helps in setting the dark and melancholy ambience that the narrator wants us to visualize. The prose is sharply composed and is indeed a riveting explanation of the life and burdens of a mother who only wants to hold her son and feel needed.
The most astonishing thing I found in this book is that if seen from a different perspective, it almost feels like social commentary. The explanations of social awkwardness and the laconic persona of Mary are picturesque. The book gives a birds-eye view of the most miraculous and yet gloomy period of the history of mankind. The rise of Christ is seen as a transcendental period but The Testament of Mary shows us another side of the coin.
Tóibín says that his writing comes from silence and The Testament of Mary comes from that philosophy. With his unique perspective on storytelling and bizarre style of writing, Tóibín has written a short but meticulously thought-out book that has something for everybody.
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