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One could be forgiven for doing a double-take at seeing the title of this book, Damascus. The author of “The Slap,” has moved a long way from writing about contemporary social issues, to examining the birth of Christianity, and, in particular, the character of Paul (Saul). It will pay the reader to peruse the Author’s note at the end of the novel, to understand what has created this powerful passion and compulsion to write on this topic.

Christos Tsiolkas had many struggles to accept, and be accepted, for his sexuality. In conversation with his mother after the tragic death of his father, his mother confessed that she had considered committing suicide when she discovered that Christos was gay. He asked her what had made her change her mind, and she said that she had found comfort in the words of Paul.

This ensured that the Author who was a lapsed Christian, went back to examine those words. Through study and research over the next five years, he concluded that, instead of him rejecting Paul’s words, he found new meaning in them and “They now walk together.” For the author, the words of Jesus that Saul preached, such as “Love Thy Neighbour and Turn the Other Cheek”, meant a whole new way of thinking and living life.

The story covers the early life of Saul, who was responsible for many violent and evil deeds before his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. The beginning of the story is real and gripping, as a woman is stoned to death because of Saul’s accusations. It is a powerful beginning which leads the reader to the harsh and raw truth of the times. Christos cannot have known what the situation in Syria would have been today, and how history repeats itself.

The first section of the narrative tells of Saul’s early days, then later sections deal with fellow Christians, Lydia, Timothy and then Saul again. This is indeed a genuine attempt by Christos, to understand God and to discover why His words are so powerful and lasting. It is true to the times and brutal in its realism.

Christos’s infatuation with the writing of Patrick White is reflected in the way his words are finely honed. Reading this book is to choose to take a journey that may be uncomfortable and challenging. It will be interesting and maybe rewarding, but certainly looks with a new perspective at an old story.

AuthorChristos Tsiolkas
PublisherAllen and Unwin
DistributorAllen and Unwin
ReleasedNovember 2019