Friday, February 28, 2014
book review: the silver chalice
just finished a really fun book (at least for me) called "the silver chalice" by one thomas costain, whom i confess to know nearly nothing about. i had seen this book turn up on shelf after shelf of book sales and finally decided to give it a try, and boy am i glad i did! it was a new york times best seller back in the early 1950's, and was subsequently turned into a motion picture, starring paul newman (in his film debut).
"the silver chalice" tells the story of basil, a young boy who, by a strange turn, enters into an entitled life of luxury and power, but has it all unjustly ripped away from him. the book, then, becomes a story about his coming to faith in the first century after the death and resurrection of Jesus. the story begins in antioch, but has significant sections in jerusalem, in rome, and in the areas between. as a work of historical fiction, it is a wonderful little portrait of first century christianity, even if it does feel like its been wed with mid-twentieth century america a few times. it is still thrilling when you first meet luke, paul, john the revelator, joseph of arimathea, dorcas, and even peter. you also meeet nero, and simon magus, among others. the book takes enough liberty as to give personality to these characters, and to humanize them in a way that i really enjoyed. rather that use these characters didactically, like two-dimensional pedagogical tools, they become real people with real flaws (Paul, for example, is short-tempered, long-winded, and rather convinced of his opinions). this characterization, along with a strong-enough plot, were enough to hold my attention for the over 500 pages of smallish print.
the story itself ends up being a kind of prequel to the arthurian "holy grail" legends, and, as such, provides an interesting introduction to that story set, if you are into that sort of thing. even if you aren't though, it is a fun read that is quite well written, painted in the hues and flavors of first century palestine, rome and greece, with a clarity that makes it easy to imagine you've traveled there yourself, and are rubbing shoulders with those who knew the Master personally. the air is hot. the cities loud. the animals are warm, loud, and less than pleasantly fragrant. the languages are myriad. the power is roman, but the way is love, as these followers remember from the life of Jesus, and now attempt to enact on their own.
i will remember this book later. the story will stick with me. which is more than i can say for many books. i give it 4 out of 5 stars.