To say James A. Michener’s whopping 1965 bestseller The Source is an historical novel both understates and misleads.
Into a narrative about a contemporary archaeological dig at Makor, a man-made mound in Israel, Michener weaves a chronological series of short stories about key people and events in Makor’s history. Through this complex literary device, Michener traces unravels the history of Makor from its earliest human occupation up to 1964.
The Source: A Novel by James A. Michener
New York: Random House, 1965. 909 pages. 1965 bestseller #1. My grade: A
The short stories explore the character of the various peoples who came to Makor—from the Canaanites to the British—with particular focus on the Jews.
Michener makes the characters increasingly complex as centuries pass, giving a sense of the progress of civilization.
Michener connects historical events in Israel and the Middle East with happenings in distant places like Rome and Mexico. He shows, for example, that the Crusades were part of Renaissance colonialism in which Europeans carved out city-states in the Holy Land.
The characters in the excavation narrative form a kind of Greek chorus to comment on and interpret the significance of the history of the Holy Land for the post-World War II world.
As America’s ties to Israel are tested by events in Syria, Iraq and Iran, The Source is worth reading once more.
In The Big Fisherman, Lloyd C. Douglas explores the rise of Christianity in a complicated story tangled around the figure of Simon Peter.
I learned lots of trivia, like the fact that multinational crowds came to Jerusalem for a big, annual Pentecost camel auction, but I didn’t enjoy the novel in which Douglas package it.
Douglas gets his characters out of central casting. He runs them around to show the human side of historical events.
But when Douglas tries to transform Peter from impetuous braggart to martyred saint, he makes the apostle seem hokey.
Unfortunately, that’s not all that seems hokey.
There’s a love story that reads like a patchwork of scenes from bad movies. The girl, known as Fara or Esther, is an Arab Jew who vows to kill her father, Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. To get to him, she disguises herself a boy.
Fara’s boyfriend, Volti, follows her to Judea to assassinate Antipas himself. The Romans get suspicious and lock him up. But Volti is such a gallant guy, they let him out so he can kill Antipas, who in their view needs killing.
I kept reading to see what happens to Fara and Volti — but nothing does.
If you’ll excuse the pun, The Big Fisherman just peters out.
The Big Fisherman
By Lloyd C. Douglas
Houghton Mifflin, 1948
Bestseller # 1 for 1948
My Grade: C