Thursday, November 26, 2015

Spiró, Captivity

REVIEW OF A NEWLY TRANSLATED NOVEL: Zelig in Jerusalem. Uri dines with Pontius Pilate and is thrown into a cell with a certain Galilean rabble-rouser (WSJ).
Hungarian novelist György Spiró’s monumental “Captivity” (Restless Books, 860 pages, $29.99) begins in Rome’s Jewish enclave during the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14-37). This oversized book has an undersized hero: Gaius “Uri” Theodorus, a moody, reedy 19-year-old dreamer. His prospects seem inauspicious at best until his father pulls some strings to have him included in a delegation bringing tithes to Jerusalem in time for the Passover celebration.

What follows is a case of mistaken identity. His fellow delegates, baffled by the presence of such an unimpressive figure, assume Uri is an agent and courier for Agrippa, the free-spending friend of Tiberius who is openly angling to be named King of Judaea. (Known to history as Herod Agrippa, he really did gain control of the kingdom in A.D. 41.) “Captivity” takes us from Rome to Jerusalem, Alexandria and back again during an especially fragile and eventful period of the Pax Romana.