Monday, July 19, 2010

Review: A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle by RW Holmen

A Wretched Man: A Novel of Paul the Apostle
by RW Holmen
2010 Bascom Hill Publishing Group
Softcover Edition; 401 Pages
ISBN: 978-1935098218
Genre: Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Saint Paul comes alive as a complex individual in this novel by RW Holmen.  He is a sinner.  He never met Jesus, but he experienced the famous conversion on the road to Damascus long after the Messiah had been crucified.  Paul believed his Damascus experience had healed his guilty soul, but Jesus' own brother doubted Paul's tale.  But what accounts for his visceral attack on Torah?  And what was behind his careful avoidance of James' and Jesus' first followers in Jerusalem?

James' doubtful reaction and rejection spurred Paul to hike the Roman highways of the Mediterranean world to proclaim the truths of Damascus, over and over again, if not for James' approval, then for his own.  Had he not been healed at Damascus?  And there was the stinging thorn in his flesh that kept the guilty wound on his flesh festering.

Journey to the first century world of the Roman Empire.  Here you will encounter emperors and slaves, Jews and Greeks, and men and women lifted from the pages of the New Testament as they stumble forward following the death of Jesus, unwitting midwives to the birth of Christianity.  Follow Paul and James as they contend for the soul of the newborn Jesus movement; their struggles is the story of Christian origins.

My Thoughts
I was afraid when I first began to read this novel that it would be more about homosexuality and less about Paul and his thoughts and actions and what he did during his lifetime.  Those fears were quickly put to rest right from the beginning as the author clearly showed that Paul's possibly homosexuality was not to be the primary focus of this novel, but Paul's growth and spiritual leadership as well as his struggles with various factions as he tried to develop a following for what he believed the true teachings of Jesus were to be according to his vision on the road to Damascus.  It was about the political movements of the time and of the people, men and women, who were caught up in those politics and who fought to keep those spiritual ideas blossoming and growing despite great hardships.

I've been listening to Paul's letters almost all of my life and yet it's only been recently that I really tried to get true meaning as to what those letters actually mean and meant to people who lived through those times.  I don't think I actually gave it much thought as to the real struggles and difficulties that Paul went through in order to give his vision to the world and the more I learn about him, the more I am in awe at what he accomplished.  Mr. Holmen was able to show Paul's struggles with his own spiritual self as well as with the political world in this novel, to the point where I felt I was right there along with the people involved.  I felt a connection with the people (I can't use the word characters as these people were actually alive and existed) and a great empathy for their belief and what they were trying to accomplish, putting themselves in great danger.  I really don't know if I could have done what they did, knowing the outcome that some of them faced.  Paul languished in prison for up to six years and I truly can't imagine what was going through his mind all that time.  Reading this novel has definitely given me a different perspective on the readings I hear every week at Mass and a new appreciation for the struggles that people in early Christian eras underwent.  I especially love the scenes between Paul and James as they try to come to an accomodation in their spiritual differences as well as express their doubts as to how the Messiah shall return to save them.  I can see how they grew doubtful as his return is not fully explained or expressed.

The world in Mr. Holmen's book is also brought vividly to life and I enjoyed reading about the daily life of the people involved in the New Testament.  Even simple things like what they ate for breakfast and descriptions of the homes, boats, clothing, jobs, and traditions were very enjoyable.  I loved learning about things like where and how they slept, what they used to transport materials, what was used for currency in different parts of the Roman world; it was all so fascinating.  It added a rich element to Paul's life that made it so much easier to understand and made the characters so much more real. 

A Wretched Man is not a traditional book about Paul the Apostle, but if you want to read a well-written tale about one of the most important characters who helped found the Christian movement, then this novel is for you.  Simply put, this novel is about a simple man who struggles with complex ideas and leads a complex life and ends up leaving us with some fundamental ideas about God wants us to view the world.  

You can view more information about the author and the novel at his website A Wretched Man.

You can also access a novel study guide for this novel and other assorted readings about Paul the Apostle at the author's blog, The Author's Blog.


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