January 25, 2012

The Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Torode

In this book, author Sam Torode imagines his grandparents living the the story of Sarah and Tobias from the Book of Tobit (which I have to admit to never hearing of before reading this novel) in the setting of the Great Depression. It's hard not to compare it to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, famously based on The Odyssey. Both stories are set during the depression, both are tales of a journey to find buried treasure, both have elements of magic realism, and both manage to do all this in an entertaining and redeeming fashion.

Tobias Henry is the sheltered young son of a Baptist minister. When his father snaps and loses both sight and position, he sends Tobias to retrieve money he had buried in his youth. Tobias confronts the real world for the first time, and immediately finds himself questioning his faith. There are too many things in the Bible, he realizes, that make no sense. Atheists are happier, he realizes, because they have no rules to follow except those they make for themselves.

As he ponders these things he loses his traveling money and finds himself riding the rails with a seasoned, endlessly knowledgeable hobo named Craw. In exchange for Craw's essential assistance, Tobias offers him a job on the family farm. Once they get there and are embraced by long last family, Tobias meets and falls in love with Sarah, who is cursed. But how can he help her if he doesn't believe in curses anymore?

The part of this book I enjoyed most was Craw's conversations with Tobias. The wisdom he imparts to his young friend is pertinent to anyone who has ever questioned their faith, or even the simple idea that our world is more than what we can overtly observe of it. This is a book to read with a mind opened to see past the literalism with which our society is so obsessed.

A caveat: this book does NOT qualify for the "Inspirational" category. There really are some Dirty Parts. I've read dirtier, but I know what the expectations usually are, so if you like your lit on the squeaky side you may want to pass on this one. ;)

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