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The Kingdom Of The Wicked (1985)

The Kingdom of the Wicked (1985)

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3.92 of 5 Votes: 4
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0877957533 (ISBN13: 9780877957539)
william morrow & company

About book The Kingdom Of The Wicked (1985)

A beautifully immersive and lively piece of historical narrative. This tells the tale of the first followers of Jesus after his "resurrection" and ascent up to "Heaven" (events which are non-magical in this telling... like tricks and manipulations by the charismatic Jesus).Anthony Burgess is a really fun writer, and really thoughtful. Here he writes a long tale of passion, conflict, strategies, religions, ignorance, fear, hope, brutality... it's nice to see real, relatable human emotions put on these historical figures (such as the Emperors and the disciples of Jesus). They live like real people, rather than characters in a biblical tale.Bloodthirsty Jewish zealots stone Christians to death. Cruel Romans torture and butcher Christians, Jews, Britons, and each other. Everybody has constant arguments about their different religions and ways of life, in an environment where these arguments are practical and vital.While the heart-felt and ambitious first Christians are very busy spreading the word of love (and encountering all kinds of hostility and violence), Roman emperors are continuously assassinated in between their own acts of far-flung violence. A few key characters remain in the periphery as witnesses to all the madness.The book is written in a way that's clearly sympathetic to the Christians (who really suffer the most in this tragic farce), but we don't witness any miracles. As a reader you might find yourself speculating whether the author is himself a Christian, but you'll have no doubt that he loves writing about ideas, arguments, and dismemberment.The best things here are the indomitable wills of the characters, and the realistic portrayal of their obscene vulnerability. The tragedies within are barely more than grand images of bad luck, ignorance, and cruelty. The close-calls and triumphs are equally due to luck or acts of kindness, and are usually followed by more tragedy.The characters are really diverse and interesting. Each horrible emperor is cruel and unwise in a unique way, especially Nero, who is obsessed with art and who is manipulated into causing great death and destruction in the name of art. Each characters' ambitions run up against the violent machine of the fractured Roman Empire, and people have to do a lot of traveling, changing plans, compromising (or refusing to compromise), and dying.I found myself inspired by these early leaders of Christianity (although I'm sure the real people were different than this inventive re-telling). I'm not religious, but their bravery in the face of death and their devotion to the idea of loving everybody are traits that give them a weird kind of power, transforming them into living works of art.

I recently re-read "I, Claudius" (see my review) and was surprised at how little the supposed birth, death and resurrection of Christ figured, even though supposedly contemporaneous with the events described in Rome. Subsequently, the Apostles plus Saul/Paul, operating in the name of Christ, began to invent their religion and spread it to Imperial Rome, so perhaps the sequel, "Claudius the God", has more, and I shall re-read it.In the meantime, I decided to re-read "Kingdom of the Wicked" by the brilliant Anthony Burgess. It covers much the same period as the Claudius volumes but balances events in Rome and Jerusalem. Which is the kingdom of the wicked? The depraved Romans? The jealous Jews? The vain Christians?As ever with Burgess, it's all ludicrously clever, buzzing with Greek and Latin word-play, much of it over my head, but Burgess has so much fun, I enjoyed it all the same.

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This book is a useful antidote to the romantic view of ancient Rome, which it shows as a brutal place whose famed empire exported its brutality on a vast scale. This is set against a romantic view of the early Christian church: the victim that endures towards an inevitable triumph. The problem for the reader enduring this long, laborious though often fascinating narrative is to distinguish history from fantasy. Roman history is well documented; early Christian history far less so. Burgess has the grace to acknowledge that his fictitious narrator is an unreliable one, but I think that is a case of praising with faint damnation. For Christians with strong stomachs, this is a good read; for everyone else, real history, however incomplete, is probably more interesting and certainly more enlightening.
—Bryan Murphy

Jesus' story and of that of his faith, through the mind of a dirty dead man. Think gritty in-your-face melodrama, like the HBO series Deadwood, only based from the time of Jesus' resurrection, to the burning of Pompeii. Actually follows the disciples of Jesus on their journey to spread the Christian faith throughout the Roman empire. Much violence and savagery will occur. Also follows the path of the Roman Cesars in all their excess and eminent demise. I haven't seen the HBO Rome series, but I think this book's better. :p

Another book where Anthony Burgess displays his love of words and general erudition. Its a bit like 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' meets the 'Satyricon', with solid lashings of Hebrew, Roman and early Christian history and theology. Burgess's description of the death by stoning of Stephen shows he has some degree of appreciation of the plight of the early Christians in Jerusalem, as the gentile ones struggled against the Hebrew ones over such questions as whether or not new Christians needed to become Jews first. I really enjoyed this romp through the first few decades of early Christianity, At times there is great humour, especially when Burgess is talking of Paul and his travels, and of the various Roman emperors and their carryings on.

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