Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Book of Everything

Kuijer, Guus. 2006. The Book of Everything.

About the Author:
Guus Kuijer is one of Holland's most celebrated children's book authors, with published work spanning short story collections, novels for children and adults, stage plays and television scripts. In 2005, The Book of Everything won the Flemish Golden Owl Award and the Dutch Golden Pencil Award. Guus has been nominated for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, to be announced in March 2006.

John Nieuwenhuizen has translated six novels from the Dutch language, including Falling, The Baboon King (winner of the prestigious Mildred L. Batchelder Award for translation) and And What About Anna?. In 2005 John was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Translation Prize. His translation of Ann Provoost's In the Shadow of the Ark is on the long-list for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

The Book of Everything is an interesting book. Relatively short. Very readable. Thomas is a young boy with a troubled life. He sees things others doesn't. You could say he has an active imagination. Some of his visions insert beauty where there is none. Other visions seem to fulfill his deepest and most secret wishes. His father is awful. He beats his wife. He is verbally abusive to his whole household. He is as tyrannical as they come. No wonder Thomas has to keep a journal of his wishes and 'visions' of sorts. In his 'Book of Everything' he creates his own world. And in this book he writes his greatest wish--besides the obvious that he wants God to bring down the plagues of Egypt on his father--he wants to be happy when he grows up. Throughout the course of the book, he meets a few people who encourage him and guide him on his journey to happiness. He's told that the key to being happy is to no longer be afraid. But how can he no longer be afraid when night after night he watches his father be a horrible person? Yelling, snapping at his family, hitting his mother.... It seems like an unending nightmare. Will he ever wake up? Will he ever be happy? Will his family ever have peace?

I can admire many aspects of THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING. I can see why some people really love this novel. But I must admit that I have some hesitations about it. You see there are two representations of God in this novel. The 'God' that this horribly abusive, strict, tyrannical, hateful man worships. The 'God' who feels it's okay to beat your wife and children and subject them to emotional and mental torment. The 'God' who says that men have the right to rule over women and women deserve to be treated as 'less than' because they are the 'weaker sex.' The second representation of God is one held by the boy, Thomas. He begins having 'visions' or 'conversations' with Jesus. But let me tell you now it's not the Jesus from Christianity. It's not the Jesus of the Bible. This Jesus is wasted. Perhaps thats the wrong word. He's a guy who knows nothing, sees nothing, does nothing. He isn't powerful. He isn't comforting. He borders on sympathetic--but only just barely. He isn't all-knowing. He isn't a Savior. He has this laidback "whatever" kind of philosophy where he just doesn't care or pay attention to the world. And as far as him being the son of God...well this 'Jesus' claims to be on bad terms with the father ever since that whole nailed to the cross thing. In fact this 'Jesus' claims that God the Father is missing, lost, hasn't been seen or heard from in quite a while...in fact 'Jesus' has almost come to the conclusion that God the Father is dead. I find offense...take offense at BOTH representations. I would be offended if only the first 'God' was represented in this novel. I would be offended if only the second 'God' was represented in this novel. It is one my pet peeves in literature when God, Christianity, religion is inaccurately, horribly rendered or portrayed. So often they get it wrong, and they get it wrong on purpose. These books mock what should be kept sacred. And for me any book that uses Jesus as a character and gives him dialogue that is purposefully mocking, sacrilegious, wrong, offensive...should come with a warning label. I know that some people won't be offended by this religious imagery. They'll enjoy it even. Maybe even laugh about it. But I know other people will be offended. And since you can't look at the cover or the flap or even the one sentence summary of the book and get an accurate view of what the novel is like...I just wanted to say that the THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING isn't a book for everyone.

Note: I don't really really believe in warning labels on literature. But I don't believe in false advertising either. And this book, in my opinion, gives off the impression that its friendly to faith. It says it's a book about God. It says it's about a boy's conversations with Jesus. What they don't tell you is that the God of the Bible will be horribly mocked and misrepresented. However, in the book's defense, it does occur to me just now that both the father and the son could be presented as having imaginary relationships with the gods of their own creation. So perhaps no one was trying to say that either one was THE god of Christianity. That would make some sense, and it would take the offensiveness down a notch or two. But some hesitation still remains.

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