Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Misanthrope presents ... 'Jesús' by Peter Baker


Back Story

In May 2008, I traveled to London and Paris for vacation. While in London, I had the great fortune to hang out almost 24-7 with the inimitable Rigby. So one day, Rigby comes and gets me at my hotel, and we take off through Russell Square, on our way to yet another of the local watering holes. Suddenly, we come upon a second-hand bookshop with a table sitting out front, offering all manner of titles at rock-bottom prices. As we stop at this table, all four of our eyes land directly on the book at its center, selling for 99 pence: Jesús by a fellow named Peter Baker. I look at Rigby. Rigby looks at me. In unison, we shout at each other, “Perfect!” He thinks it’s actually a book about Jesus of Nazareth. I, looking at the cover, suspect it’s something a bit different. So I pick it up and turn it over, and we read the back cover together:
The perfect friend's the one who knows the worst about you but loves you just the same. There's only one who loves like that, Jesús is his name.

Jesús is a Spanish gipsy, suspected rapist, drug squad target, acclaimed worker of miracles and head-cook-and-bottle-washer to a gay Costa del Sol radio personality.

Needless to say, the purchase was made post-haste.

The Actual Story

Peter Baker’s Jesús tells the story of Peter, a widowed gay radio talk-show host in Spain, who, through a series coincidences and mis-steps, crosses paths with a young man named Jesús, who eventually ends up in Peter’s employ as a housekeeper. But Jesús isn’t an ordinary young man: he is innocence incarnate, full of love for his fellow man, non-judgmental to a fault; as well, he speaks in parables and aphorisms and has been rumored to work miracles, including raising the dead to life. Jesús comes into Peter’s life at just right time, Peter having recently lost – and still mourning – his lover of 20-plus years while at the same time on the verge of losing his job because of his homophobic boss. In essence, Peter has lost hope in mankind, and there is only one who can restore it: Jesús.

My Mini-Review

Jesús is essentially an updated re-telling of the Christ myth, set in modern times. Frankly, I think Mr. Baker overreaches a bit in trying to pull this off, but I admire his ambition and his effort. Just about everything you’d expect from such a story is here: rumors – as well as the actual witnessing - of miracles; a 40-day sojourn in the desert; a doting, almost-perfect mother; a Judas figure, who betrays Jesús for money; false accusations and fear; and a crucifixion. And while some of this may seem trite, there are very moving passages throughout the story, in which we see faith lost and then found – not necessarily religious faith as some televangelist would describe but faith in each other as humans.

The story is told from Peter’s perspective, a British expatriate living in Spain. He is a local radio talk show host, who is at odds with his homophobic boss and in danger of losing his job. Add to this the fact that he’s recently lost his lover of 25 years to leukemia and you can see right off that Peter’s nothing short of completely miserable. At one and the same time proud of his gayness and detesting the gay scene, Peter is on the lookout for a reason to live, to keep going now that all seems lost.

Enter Jesús. This young man –born on the day that Franco died- has taken the rap for possessing drugs that aren’t his and his life is in danger. But you wouldn’t know it from the way he acts: he loves his enemies as he loves his friends, refusing to cast judgment on anyone. Rather, he is interested in lifting up everyone he meets to reach his true potential as a human being. Oddly asexual, Jesús treats girls as he does boys and vice versa – each is a human being and not a gender. As rumors of his miracles spread, he is revered and reviled, adding followers as he walks through town after town, and creating enemies who distrust him and finally accuse him of a raping a girl who he actually protects from a rapist, ensuring his demise. And in taking on the sins of the mob that needs (in)justice at all costs, he teaches Peter how to love unconditionally.

When finished with Jesús, the one thing I wanted was more Jesús. His few short parables and aphorisms weren’t really enough for me to believe fully in his sanctity. This is the one shortcoming of the book. But the more I’ve thought on it, I can see that this might be intentional on Baker’s part. Because in essence, belief and faith in anything that can’t be readily seen is...a leap of faith, which any of us must make when trusting others. He does, however, do a splendid job of evoking the heat, the exoticness, the beauty, and the romance of Spain’s coast. As well, I like the way he illustrates, through the Christ myth, how each and every person, in essence, has to martyr himself to a degree to be a decent person who cares for others in this fast-paced age we live in nowadays. If I had to be so pedestrian as to rate this book, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it.

And one interesting little note: At the back of my copy of Jesús is an ad for another book that is published by Millivres Books: Oddfellows by our very own Jack Dickson (Jax).

An Excerpt:



the Paul of this story

who, thanks be to God, is

still making me happy after

forty-five wonderful years 

and for all the J.C.s

who have brightened our lives. 


He that loveth not knoweth not God

For God IS love.

                                      (1 John 4:8) 

In the beginning. . .

THE DAY FRANCO died, Jesús was born. I remember the day well. The fierce sun beat down on the faded and blistered paint-work of my front door, which opened unfashionably onto the Malaga waterfront. On the other side of the harbour, in the main drag, a dozen or more policia in their shabby grey and red uniforms were scrambling like urchins in a desperate attempt to gather subversive literature before it could be seen by the late afternoon shoppers, who at any moment would appear like a swarm of bees roused from siesta. For if anything was certain in the old Spain, it was that the caudillo was the King of Kings: whereas Jesús, I was to discover some years later, had a propensity for becoming a quean of something-or-other.

----A well respected Madrid newspaper recently informed readers that one-in-five women have their first boy-child christened Jesus. A phone call to the local jail elicited the fact that they currently have ninety-nine Jesúses behind bars. My postman is Jesús. There is a Jesus who works as a croupier in the Marbella casino: and only last week Diario Sur reported the the loss of a Jesus at sea because, when his trawler went down, he went down with it, instead of walking on the water. I know of no other people so obsessed by the prestige of knowing and the power of being the Son of God, that they are prepared to risk the wrath to come. Indeed, it is Black Spain.

----But at the time of the caudillo's death I was unaware of J.C. mewling and puking in his mother's arms. I was still living with Paul, my lover for twenty-five years, unaware that leukaemia was soon to take him from me. No one dies on the Costa del Sol, we merely fade away, melt into the sunbaked, barren land where the lush foothills of Andalusia join the Mediterranean sea, the cradle of civilization. The Phoenicians pillaged the earth; but the Romans gave the people roads. The Moors conquered them; but left them learning. And the Reyes Católico both freed and debauched them, so that today this thin coastal strip is urbanized, publicized, and sodomized for extranjeros loaded with booze, booty and beauteous boobs. Yet little more than a jogger's stride inland are verdant vines, ageless olives, foraging fighting bulls and white-walled villages that snooze beneath a somnolent sun.

----The widowed Tia Tula, who helps her married sister run the posada in Pavo, has started the day by burning the magdalenas. She is cursed by a duende, which only yesterday had her washing off the line, and caused her to sit on a chair that wasn't there after she had partaken of her morning sippers of sweet anise. A duende is the ghost of a child who has died before it can be baptized: and there are many such children in Pavo, because Father Ignacius is such a wicked priest. Jesús, who was born in Pavo, might have been able to do something about it because his gitano family know all there is to know about el amor brujo, blood weddings and other such things: but J.C. was too busy being the city-boy, stuck into salas de fiesta, blood and sand, computers, compact discs and fast cars he called guapo. The old men sit in the shade of the oleanders in the Plaza de la Constitucion (formerly Jose Antonio, formerly just the plaza) and nod their heads. This they know to be true, because their forefathers told them so.

About the Author (from Jesús):

Peter Baker was born in Eastbourne, Sussex, England and began his writing career towards the end of the Second World War. He created the innovative and influential film magazine of the sixties, films and filming and represented Britain on the juries of many international film festivals, including those at Berlin, Cannes, Moscow and Venice. He has contributed to several television series and his previous novels include To Win a Prize on Sunday, Cruise, Casino, Clinic, Bedroom Sailors and Babel Beach. He lives in Málaga, Spain.

You can get a copy of this book online here:


Mieze said...

Ooh. I gotta read this!

Steven Trull said...

Jesus, what a peculiar book.

heliotrope said...

Ditto what Mieze said...thanks Misa

DavidEhrenstein said...

Fascinating, mis. Sounds very Firbankin theme and structure.

david said...

I was thinking Walter Tevis and Carson McCullers and, styleywise, Edmund White. "No one dies in Costa Del Sol" indeed. It's the amiable but tricky voice of the older, sober but unrepentant Ed White.

Damn it! I can't live AND read all these great ( not Great)books too. After finding no Ashbery or O'Hara at the RehoBch Lambda Rising I had to borrow a doorstop called The Oxford Book of American Verse from my local public library branch. And now Jesus. Jesus.

Mat said...

99 pence?
So, how much is that in real money?