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Good Reads Review: Damascus by Christos Tsiolkas

When it comes to stories based on religion, many are often kneecapped because there are either a semi-pious reiteration of why this religion should be seen as a valid way of looking upon the world, or a clumsily put together take down that lacks subtlety or analysis. The best stories in this regard are ones that allow for a chance of honest analysis, and show why religion can not only been a guiding light, but a misguiding one too when in the wrong hands.

As a fan of The Slap, I went into this excited about what Christos would be delivering, especially considering this book received the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction. While I wasn't wowed by this book as much as The Slap, I would be lying to say that Tsiolkas didn't produce an compelling story. This is clearly a subject that matters very deeply to him, and having been on both sides of being accepted and rejected by religion. It shows on the page.

Damascus is a very different, often quite violent, and confronting story around the formation of Christianity. This is a book following many different characters and covering many unique experiences, but at its core it exquisitely critiques timeless themes of tolerance and faith.

Particularly following the character of Saul (Paul), many questions are asked around the validity of this, at the time, outsider religion, and the treatment many characters receive for their beliefs is often very tough to read. The one side of analysis though that really stops this book from being a knockout study of religion for me is that, given the now high stature Christianity exists within today in regards to world religions, that the stubborn belief and disagreement within the religion itself isn't examined further. Characters still disagree, but it is not until the closing chapters than more depth goes into the issues of division within the religion itself become apparent. It seemed like such a fascinating world to explore.

This is still a recommended book, as Tisolkas still covers a lot of ambitious ground, and absolutely nails the setting and time. If you are a practising Christian, you will likely find this story especially rewarding. While at times challenging, Damascus is, ultimately, very rewarding.


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