"Emmaus" by Alessandro Baricco

You may be familiar with the story in the Bible concerning the two men who are walking along a road talking about the recent crucifixion of Jesus. They are dismayed by the event, looking for what it means for them now that their master is gone. They are suddenly met by another man who inquires why they are so dismayed. The two men mention Jesus’s death and seem somewhat surprised that this stranger hadn’t heard of the incident. The three of them continue on to the town of Emmaus, where the two men live, and invite the stranger into their home to eat. It is only when the stranger breaks the bread, then immediately disappears, do they realize that they had been with Jesus the whole time, although up until that moment they hadn’t been able to recognize him. It is this story in which this amazing novel takes its cue from and one must keep this in mind as they read this wonderful story.  

 

The novel is set in contemporary times and revolves around a group of four working class Italian teenagers, all of whom are strictly Catholic. They even play in a band together at the local parish. They spend their time doing things that normal teenagers do, although their conversation is often filled with Catholic dogma, and one of the teens, who the others refer to as “The Saint”, even has designs on one day becoming a priest. There is a young woman in their midst, a sexual young woman named Andre, with whom all four boys become infatuated with. She was known for taking boys into the cinema bathroom one after the other. She also once tried to kill herself. The reader doesn’t fully know why Andre is the way she is but the mystery is eventually solved during the course of the boys’ slow loss of innocence - and this is what this novel is, essentially - a loss-of-innocence story. The thing is it isn’t as cut and dry as that, for there are very interesting ideas one will ponder as the narrator digresses now and then about issues of religion, faith and truth. It is also very ambiguous as far as it relates to Catholicism and sin. Are these boys sheltered only to later discover truth? Are they innocent and then corrupted? As the narrator struggles with these issues - as do the other three boys - we watch them lose their innocence rather rapidly and their loss of innocence commences once they make contact with the mysterious Andre. 

 

It is a wonderfully written book and even though it’s a short novel - only about 120 pages - there is enough power here to make the reader contemplate these issues long after reading. It’s ambiguity allows the reader to decide for him/herself the answers to the questions this novel poses. Highly recommended. 

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