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Quarantine [Paperback]

Jim Crace
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Paperback, Oct. 30 1997 --  
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Book Description

Oct. 30 1997
Two thousand years ago four travellers enter the Judean desert to fast and pray for their lost souls. In the blistering heat and barren rocks they encounter the evil merchant Musa, who holds them in his tyrannical power. Yet there is also another, afaint figure in the distance, fasting for forty days, a Galilean who they say has the power to work miracles ...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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The story of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness is surely among the most celebrated and widely diffused narratives in Western culture. Why, then, would Jim Crace choose to retell it in strictly naturalistic, non-miraculous terms? The obvious answer would be that the godless novelist is trying to debunk divinity--to take the entire New Testament down a notch. And at first, this does seem to be the case. Crace's Jesus first got religion as an adolescent, and "was transformed by god like other boys his age were changed by girls." His peers view his spiritual fervor as a youthful eccentricity. Even now, as the thirtysomething Jesus heads out to the Judean desert for his 40-day retreat, he's perceived by his fellow anchorites as a flighty and impractical Galilean. They even call him "Gally" for short--and what sort of deity answers to a nickname?

Yet Crace is hardly the jeering materialist we might expect. As Jesus takes to his cliff-top cave, the author renders his religious transports without a hint of irony, and with a linguistic elegance that can hardly be called disrespectful: "The prayers were in command of him. He shouted out across the valley, happy with the noise he made. The common words lost hold of sound. The consonants collapsed. He called on god to join him in the cave with all the noises that his lips could make. He called with all the voices in his throat." And while most of the temptations of Christ are visited upon him by humans--by the motley crew of his cave-dwelling neighbors--he resists them with what we can only call superhuman will. Quarantine does, of course, operate on a fairly realistic plane. Jesus dies of starvation long before his 40-day fast is complete, and his fellow retreatants, who take center stage throughout much of the novel, are much too confused and brutal ever to figure in any Sunday school pageant. Still, Crace leaves at least the possibility of resurrection intact at the end, which should ensure that his brilliant book will rattle both believers and non-believers alike. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This extraordinary novel, a sometimes realistic, sometimes hallucinatory account of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, is the latest by England's Crace, a writer of great gifts (The Gift of Stones, Continent), and was reportedly the runner-up to The God of Small Things for the Booker prize. It is a remarkably successful attempt to put a story known by everyone into a convincing physical and historical context. The beauty and precision of Crace's writing, as well as his store of knowledge about such arcane matters as weaving two millennia ago and the fauna of the Judean desert, give what could have been a fey experiment an air of overwhelming authority. For a start, Jesus, portrayed as a rather callow youth befuddled by prayer, is not at the center of the canvas. That spot belongs to Musa, a stout, lecherous, bullying merchant with a beguiling tongue, whose skinny and long-suffering wife, Miri, has left him for dead in his tent as the story begins. Then, Jesus is not the only pilgrim essaying a fast in the desert. Setting about their vigils in their very different ways are Shim, a handsome, self-absorbed ascetic; Marta, a prosperous but barren woman who yearns to conceive; Aphas, an elderly Jew with cancer; and a dumb, wiry peasant. After Jesus seems to bring Musa back to life (he is obsessed with the idea of being a healer), the merchant comes to dominate the group, using his salesman's skills to convince them that he is their landlord and they owe him tribute. Only the thought of Jesus, who hides from the rest in his inaccessible cave, gives him pause. As for Jesus himself, can Musa be the devil sent to tempt him? The ways in which Crace has the six desert dwellers interrelate with each other and with Jesus are spellbinding; the book is a superbly crafted combination of historical and inspirational fiction that is genuinely unique. Rights: David Godwin Assoc.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Miri's husband was shouting in his sleep, not words that she could recognize but simple, blurting fanfares of distress. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars entertaining food for thought May 5 2002
Format:Paperback
The place: a dry landscape in the Near-East. The time: the early decades AD. In their tent merchant's wife Miri notices that her husband's tongue is black and that he is running a high fever: "She put her hand on to his chest; it was soft, damp and hot, like fresh bread. Her husband, Musa, was being baked alive. Good news." Miri and the hated Musa are then left behind by the other merchants, so that Musa can die without hindring the caravan's progress.
Stranded, they are joined by an odd bunch of individuals: five men and women who have come to the desert for 40 days (the origin of the word "quarantine") to fast and pray and be granted sanity, health, pregnancy or something else. One keeps himself entirely apart: an elusive, zealous young carpenter's son from Galilee, who soon becomes the object of speculation, mythmaking and awe, especially when Musa, after a brief encounter with the Galilean, confounds everybody's hopes and expectations by staying alive.
It won't do to give away anything more of what happens, but the sense of place, the individuality of the characters and especially the interaction between them are marvellous. And things do not quite turn out as anyone with a smattering of knowledge of the the New Testament would expect. Or do they? Besides providing us with a great story the novel also gives food for thought to both atheists like myself and Christians with an enquiring mind. The orthodox had better read something else.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Jim Crace's Quarantine: A New Vision of Jesus Nov. 26 2001
Format:Paperback
This is a truly astonishing novel that tackles the old story of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness in totally unexpected ways.
In Jim Crace's novel, Jesus doesn't last 40 days. He dies after 30, and the other pilgrims on his journey, with whom he never exchanges a word, leave on day 31. (With a deft touch, Crace structures his novel into 31 chapters.)
All is not what is seems in this novel. Does Jesus perform a miracle by healing the brutal merchant Musa of a fever, or did the merchant recover on his own, coincidentally? Both are possibilities. Has Jesus risen from the dead at the end of the novel, or are his appeareances merely shimmering, insubstantial desert apparitions? Once again, both are possibilities.
What you come to realize is that Crace in fact is retelling the entire story of Jesus and the faith his followers founded, compressing it into the space of 31 days in the desert. Some of the book's characters remind us of major figures in Jesus' life. Musa is a dark, demonic version of Joseph, on a journey with his pregnant wife. Marta reminds us of Mary Magdalene. There are others.
What lodges in the mind most powerfully is the sense of renewed, resurrected life we find at the end of the novel. Jesus' fellow-travelellers leave the desert and get back onto the main commercial road, joining other men and women on the journey of life. And, Crace suggests, perhaps Jesus himself becomes part of the journey, taking his message of love and hope to the world.
Qaurantine is truly a new vision of Jesus.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The desert's story. Nov. 19 2001
Format:Paperback
Barry Lopez recently visited Boulder on his book tour, and mentioned that when he's not writing, he's reading Jim Crace and Russell Banks. He mentioned reading QUARANTINE in particular, and about Crace, Lopez said, "watch this guy."
The Bible says that Jesus went into the desert for forty days, where he was tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12-13). "Go into the desert if you must, and fast," Crace writes in this imaginative tale of that forty-day retreat into the wilderness. "But do take care. For god is not alone up there, if god is there at all. But there are animals; and the devil is the fiercest of them all" (p. 158). Written, perhaps, from the desert's point of view, Crace's 245-page novel reveals that Jesus's wilderness "quarantine" would be "achieved without the comforts and temptations of clothing, food and water. He'd put his trust in god, as young men do. He would encounter god or die, that was the nose and tail of it. That's why he'd come. To talk directly to his god. To let his god provide the water and the food. Or let the devil do its work. It would be a test for all three of them" (p. 22). Crace's writing is so vivid that it allows us to experience Jesus's quarantine for ourselves. "No one had said how painful it would be," Crace writes. "How first, there would be the headaches and bad breath, weakness, fainting; or how the coating on the upper surface of his tongue would thicken day by day; or how his tongue would soon become stuck to the upper part of his mouth, held in place by gluey strings of hunger, so that he would mutter to himself or say his prayers as if his palate had been cleft at birth; or how his gums would bleed and his teeth become as loose as date stones" (p. 157).
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5.0 out of 5 stars God the Teenager Sept. 16 2001
Format:Paperback
If there are writers more protean than Jim Crace, novelists more determined than he not ever to write the same kind of book twice, they keep well hidden. Crace's previous novels had settings as varied as these: prehistoric earth (The Gift of Stones), metropolitan Britain a few years in the future (Arcadia), and Cornwall in the 19th Century (Signals of Distress). Lest we should see a pattern developing, he has gone hiking and this, his fifth novel and already something of a modern classic, takes place in Judea, two thousand years ago. The hero is called Jesus. He is from Galilee. He is a carpenter by trade. How original.
Words lose their meanings and I suppose it is a sad reflection on the times to note that for most people now the word 'quarantine' conjures up the image of six months of doggy hell; or, just possibly, the director of Pulp Fiction. The founding meaning is gone to most, but the book reminds us that quarantine originally meant a period of 40 days and nights alone, often fasting, done with the aim of achieving some personal or spiritual goal. (The duration alone is retained in the French 'quarante'.) The supporting characters in Crace's novel are four people pursuing such a quarantine in search of relief for their respective problems ("madness, madness, cancer, infertility"). The fifth is Jesus, a young man of zealous disposition. The other four will break their fast every night: a sign that they don't really believe that god will provide for them, let alone that he will cure their maladies. Jesus is different:
"His quarantine would be achieved without the comforts and temptations of clothing, food and water. He'd put his trust in god, as young men do. He would encounter god or die, that was the nose and tail of it. That's why he'd come.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Good thing it's short!
Quarantine was a waste of time. I plowed through to the end but only because it was short and I kept thinking it was going to get better. Read more
Published on Aug. 28 2001
1.0 out of 5 stars A waste of time and money
It's not unsettling, bizarre or anything remotely wonderful. It's a bunch of words signifying nothing. Incidentally, crace, the G in god is capitalized.
Published on July 2 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning journey
Take five people, put them in caves for forty days of fasting and prayer.Add one caravan merchant near death, and a wife waiting impatiently for that event to occur. Read more
Published on June 29 2001 by J. Carroll
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fable Wrapped in a Novel
Quarantine is a novel of Christ's forty-day sojourn in the wilderness in which He was tempted by Satan. It resembles a fable in its construction. Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Quarantine
"Quarantine" is a fascinating exercise that promises more than it actually delivers. The descriptions of the desert setting and the effects of fasting are both exquisite... Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2000
1.0 out of 5 stars As dry as the landscape it depicts
I enjoy intelligent, philosophical writing, which is why I was eager to read this novel. But I found the writing to be as arid as the desert landscape it describes. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2000 by Larry Feign
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and enigmatic
What to make of this book? Crace knows the story of Jesus is so well known as to be almost sacrosanct. Read more
Published on Aug. 9 2000 by Paul Harrington
5.0 out of 5 stars Astounding. Bizarre. Upsetting.
Jim Crace is one of the finest writers working in English today--each of his rather brief books manages to fashion vivid, tangible worlds in the sparest, most succint prose. Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2000 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars How to place this book?
My mother sent me this bizarre book as she is wont to ("it looked interesting" or "I read this and wanted to see what you thought"), and I am still unsure how... Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2000 by R. Peterson
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