Eight angels descend to earth with a mission: to supervise the life of Yune Bukhari, a boy born in Damascus to a Christian mother and Muslim father. After all, Yune is destined to be a modern-day disciple of Jesus whose job will be to proclaim the Second Coming of Christ.
To succeed in his mission, Yune’s upbringing must be “managed” properly by the angels to ensure he is exposed to the required spiritual and earthly experiences. Each angel specialises in a particular domain, so they take turns in guiding Yune (unbeknownst to him) through puberty and adolescence and help create the appropriate circumstances for him to make the right decisions. The angels are following a script handed to them by a higher authority, and are alerted to open scrolls that light up at designated points in Yune’s life and contain instructions in the form of poetic riddles.
Yune grows up and realises what he needs to do. He starts assembling the disciples in order to get ready for Christmas Eve, when he believes Christ will show up in Damascus. This is perhaps the best part of the book, as the people Yune collects make up a diverse and interesting group of characters. The eponymous Gospel of Damascus is one of the book chapters; it describes the events leading up to the return of the Messiah. This is perhaps the weaker part of the book, a failed attempt are creating a new gospel that sounds and imitates the originals.
This eschatological fantasy is built on themes from the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It draws on mystical interpretations of the holy scriptures, creating a curious amalgamation of the three traditions. Yune’s name is derived from Jonah, the Biblical prophet.
This is not an easy book to read, especially for those who are not familiar with at least some of the religious texts of these religions. Although Imady denies this being an autobiographical novel, many elements of his life (as described in his short bio) feature in the book: he was born in Damascus to Christian and Muslim parents, he went to the same school Yune goes to, and so on and so forth. One can only wonder if the real life Imady has the same foot fetish that Yune has in the book…
But not only the themes of the novel make it a hard read. The writing is somewhat unwieldy and at times very repetitive; some of the dialogues could have been trimmed down significantly without hurting the story. Even more shocking are the multiple typographical and factual errors that appear on almost every page. Here are a few examples:
- Page 5: it’s instead of its (!)
- Page 6: the hebrew term “kefitzat ha-aretz” is wrong; the correct term is “kefitzat ha-derech”
- Page 22: The prophet Jonah did not convert the city of Midian to monotheism. It was the city of Nineveh.
- Page 29: Miriam (sister of Moses) did not follow her brother to the house of Pharaoh; she follows his basket down the river
- Page 131: Buturs should be Brutus
And so on and so forth. A more careful proofreading (and editing) of this book would have made it much easier to read.
In summary, despite its shortcomings, this is an intriguing novel that might appeal to those seeking simplistic spiritual experiences by reading eschatological fantasy tales.