Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review of Spiró, Captivity

BOOK REVIEW: (Adam Kirsch, Tablet).
Captivity, the newly translated novel by the Hungarian writer György Spiró, offers a good reminder not to judge a book by its cover. When I first saw this particular cover, with its black background, stark white typography, and surreally floating sculptured bust, the imagery—combined with the book’s Central European provenance, gloomy title, and Jewish focus—made me think that this would be a brooding modernist enigma of a book, perhaps along the lines of Imre Kertész’s Holocaust fictions. In fact, Captivity turns out to be just the opposite—a sprawling (more than 800 pages), picturesque, old-fashioned historical novel about the Roman Empire, in the showy tradition of Ben Hur and I, Claudius. In fact, both Jesus and Claudius, the main characters of those books, make cameo appearances in Captivity, as do other boldface names of the 1st century CE, including Caligula, Pontius Pilate, and Philo of Alexandria. What sets Captivity apart is that it makes the rare attempt to view all these historical phenomena—from the rise of Christianity to the flamboyant vices of the emperors—through a distinctively Jewish lens.

Another recent review was noted here.