Required Reading: April 2014

You know what? My decision last March not to set any reading lists was actually one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my reading this year. It was actually so nice not to worry about what I will read, or if I will finish anything that I set myself to read. I picked up whatever book I wanted and read at my own pace. That was definitely refreshing.

So here’s what I read last month:

  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (5/5) – Definitely one of my favorite reads so far. So many gems in this one. :)
  • The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding (3/5) – Fun contemporary YA, with theater and musicals and a writer mom.
  • Too Good To Be True by Kristan Higgins (4/5) – Heee so much fun and swoon! You can never go wrong with a Kristan Higgins.
  • Cathedral by Raymond Carver (3/5) – Finally finished this! I wasn’t as in love with this as I was with What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, but I really liked the longer version of Bath, entitled “A Small Good Thing”, here.
  • Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (3/5) – Still magical and still lovely. I want to go and be lost in Lost Lake, too.
  • 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Michael Gaitley (5/5) – This is a retreat book, so I started this on February and ended on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Definitely life-changing. To Jesus, through Mary.
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green (reread) – A reread because I was asked to moderate a book discussion about this. I liked it better the second time around. :)

See, I read a lot last month! (And of course, I wrote zero reviews for them. Haha)

But now it’s April, and it’s sorta back to the reading list reality. Sort of. I have a reading list, which I bet I wouldn’t be able to follow as strictly because I always get distracted by other shiny books nowadays and I am just a slow reader now, so there. :)

Required Reading 2014 - April

Holy Week falls on April, and I’ve always tried to have a Holy Week theme for my books whenever it rolls around because it sets the right mood. I realized that I didn’t have fiction that’s good for Holy Week this time around (I had the last two Narnia books in 2012 and Iscariot in 2013). But now that I seem to be taking a liking to some non-fiction books, and we keep on talking about some of these titles at SFC meetings, so I figured it’s time to actually read things that the Pope wrote. (And Pope Francis is cool.)

rrapril2014

  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino – our book club’s book of the month. :)
  • The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and Lumen Fidei by Pope Francis – because like I said, Pope Francis is cool. And it’s about time I read some encyclicals. And The Joy of the Gospel has joy in it, and it’s my word for 2014. :)
  • Illusion by Frank Peretti – This has been on my TBR for years, and it’s kind of suprising because I love Frank Peretti. I should have started reading this ages ago. :)

I also plan to read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen, but I didn’t put it here because I’m pretty sure I won’t finish it this month. :P

Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life  by Shauna NiequistCold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life by Shauna Niequist
Publisher: Zondervan
Number of pages: 238
My copy: Kindle edition

Cold Tangerines is a collection of stories that celebrate the extraordinary moments hidden in our everyday lives. It is about God, and about life, and about the thousands of daily ways in which an awareness of God changes and infuses everything. It is about spiritual life, and about all the things that we have called nonspiritual life that might be spiritual after all. It is the snapshots of a young woman making peace with herself and her life, and trying to craft a life that captures the energy and exuberance we long for in the midst of the fear and regret and envy we all carry with us. It is both a voice of challenge and song of comfort, calling us upward to the best possible life, and giving us room to breathe, to rest, to break down and break through. Cold Tangerines offers bright and varied glimpses of hope and redemption, in and among the heartbreak and boredom and broken glass.

* * *

I was shopping for a Christmas present for my mom in Body Shop when I saw that they have new stocks of my favorite body butter scent, tangerine. That scent became my favorite by accident years ago, when I went there to claim my Love Your Body membership birthday gift, and they gave me a small bottle of their tangerine-scented lotion and body wash. I used it for the gym and loved it, and eventually bought more until I got broke and realized that my daily bath stuff are too expensive. So while I was there, buying a Christmas present for my mom, I decided to get a tub of the tangerine body butter, since it’s on sale anyway. Plus, the scent just really cheers me up.

I’d like to believe that the moment I had with that body butter was something that Shauna Niequist was pointing at in her first book, Cold Tangerines. The subtitle alone is an indication of it: Celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life. Plus the fact that what I bought was a tangerine scented body butter, it kinda fits the entire thing, right?

Anyway. I loved the first Shauna Niequist book I read, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way, so when I saw that her two other books were on sale on Kindle on early December morning, I immediately bought it. I was a little afraid that her books might be those one-hit thing, meaning I won’t really like the others I read because I won’t be able to relate to it, but I shouldn’t have feared anything with her first book because it was exactly what Bittersweet was for me when I first read it: it came at the right time in my life.

Cold Tangerines is exactly about what it says: celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life. Here, Shauna Niequist talks about the many little ways that God shows Himself in life, how the natural becomes spiritual, and how the physical things we see and we do are all connected to how we are nourished spiritually. There’s food, friendship, writing, traveling. There’s body issues, vacations, heartbreak, family. Shauna shared stories of her personal life, much like how she also did in Bittersweet, and then points the reader to God, and His faithfulness and His wonder in the ordinary life that she had.

Which means, we too, can see this, the extraordinary in our everyday life. I loved how easy it was to relate to her stories in this book, and whatever stage of life I was in, I would be able to find wisdom and advice in this book. Shauna’s honesty shone in this book, and when I read the part about how hard it was for her to write in this book, I realized how much she must have struggled to put these words on paper. But that struggle was a blessing, at least for me, because I know that struggle, too. I feel that every time I write a post for my personal blog, wrestling with the words in hopes of them being used for something. And then there’s the forgiveness chapter, one of my favorites, which really and truly came at the right time because I was struggling to forgive and ask for forgiveness from someone as well. Like Bittersweet, I think I highlighted almost half of the book — there were just so many quotes to keep — the ones I added below are just a glimpse of it, really.

I don’t plan on using my tangerine-scented body butter everyday because I don’t want to run out of it too fast. But I do take the time to smell it everyday, in a way to remind me that I can choose to see my life as sweet and happy, because it really is. And that is what Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines is — a reminder that there is something super in our natural life. Cold Tangerines is the kind of book I would recommend someone to read especially for the New Year. It’s fresh and honest and funny and inspiring, and I think it would help set the mood for the fresh start that everyone’s looking for in the turn of the year. Or if it’s not the New Year, read this, still. This book is a reminder that there is beauty and hope and redemption in this extraordinary everyday life.

Number of dog-eared page(s) highlighted quotes: 138

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

God is no match for the wreckage of the world we live in.

The big moments are the daily, tiny moments of courage and forgiveness and hope that we grab on to and extend to one another.

You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working toward, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that, the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.

Friendship is about risk. Love is about risk. If we can control it and manage it and manufacture it, then it’s something else, but if it’s really love, really friendship, it’s a little scary around the edges.

I felt so small and anonymous, surrounded by the sounds and smells and sights of a place I’d only read about, and I could go as quickly or as slowly as I wanted to. There are only two things I like to do alone: reading and traveling, and for the same reason. When you travel, and when you read, you are not actually alone, but rather surrounded by other worlds entirely, the footsteps and phrases of whole other lives keeping you company as you go.

Help us to be brave with one another, for these are the days.

Words are the breakdown through which I see all of life, instead of molecules or notes or chords and colors. words in even black and white snakes, back and forth across the page, the portals through which a little girl found a big world, and through which, now, a grown-up girl is trying to pass.

I have never been so clingy and strange, so unmoored and lacking in appropriate small talk, and I am beyond thankful to my friends for sticking around in the worst of it.

When I pray, something freaked-out and dazed inside me finds a place to lay down and rest. When I pray, I don’t feel so alone in the universe. I feel like there is a web, a finely-spun net, holding it all together, keeping it spinning. I feel powerless, and prayer reminds me that I may be powerless, but there is power, and the one who holds the power is good.

It was like a full-time job, forgiving her over and over, with each new angry thought or bad conversation, but it was good work, like how good it feels to shovel snow or rake leaves in the cold air.

It happens when we do the hardest work, the most secret struggle, the most demanding truth telling. In those moments of ferocity and fight, peace is born. Shalom arrives, and everything is new. And when you’ve tasted it, smelled it, fought for it, labored it into life, you’ll give your soul to get a little more, and it is always worth it.

Nothing good ever comes easily. You have to lose things you thought you loved, give up the things you thought you needed. You have to get over yourself, beyond your past, out from under the weight of your future. The good stuff never comes when things are easy.

The sacred mixes in with the daily when you have a conversation with someone you love, or you read a great book, or when you do something courageous.

Rating:

Other reviews:
Wrecked.org
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Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage

Packing LightPacking Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage by Allison Vesterfelt
Publisher: Moody Publishing
Number of pages: 256
My copy: Kindle edition

What do you need to leave behind?

When I was in college, I figured my life would come together around graduation. I’d meet a guy; we’d plan a beautiful wedding and buy a nice house-not necessarily with a picket fence, but with whatever kind of fence we wanted. I might work, or I might not, but whatever we decided, I would be happy.

When I got out of college and my life didn’t look like that, I floundered around, trying to figure out how to get the life I had always dreamed of. I went down so many different paths for it. Career. Travel. Friends. Relationships. But none of them were as satisfying as I hoped they would be.

Like many twenty-somethings, I tried desperately to discover the life of my dreams after college, but instead of finding it, I just kept accumulating baggage . I had school loans, car payments, electronics I couldn’t afford, a house full of mismatched furniture I didn’t love but that had become my own, hurt from broken relationships, and unmet expectations for what life was “supposed to be” like.

Just when I had given up all hope of finding the “life I’d always dreamed about,” I decided to take a trip to all fifty states…because when you go on a trip, you can’t take your baggage. What I found was that “packing light” wasn’t as easy as I thought it was.

This is the story of that trip and learning to live life with less baggage.

* * *

I found Ally’s blog through Twitter one time and her blog quickly became one of my favorites. I must admit that I really liked reading the stuff she wrote about dating, because I thought they spoke the truth, and not in a flowery way but in a real, age-appropriate, I-can-apply-this-to-my-life way. I was also very, very amazed at how she and her friend quit their jobs, sell everything and then went on a road trip to pursue their dreams. It’s such an exciting thing, things that my friends and I can only think about. I mean, quit our jobs, sell everything and travel? It seemed hardly rational.

When I heard that Ally was releasing a book about her adventures in this trip — and one of the reasons she went on a road trip, I think — I knew I wanted to read it. I find it funny that this book, like the previous non-fiction book I bought and read — came to my life at exactly the right time, and it seemed like the words I read were the exact words I needed in my life.

I make it sound so dramatic, I know, but it was the only thing that fits with my reading experience. Packing Light is a memoir of sorts, of Ally’s trip with her friend Sharaya, and what she learned about baggage, be it physical or not. Ally talked about the preparations for the trip, her doubts, their adventures and misadventures. She talked about the relationships that she formed and lost and strengthened in the course of six months, how she dealt with heartbreak and how she found herself again. In each of the chapters, Ally would share the lessons she learned, and how she learned that in a trip — and in life — you can’t take all the baggage that you have accumulated, but packing light isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

The best thing about books like this, I think, is its honesty. It helps that I knew Ally from her blog before, and her posts are just so real and honest that I knew her book would be nothing less. Packing Light has that same feel, the same kind of intimacy of a good friend who is telling you her story, and her adventures and you learn a thing or two from what she’s saying. I liked reading about how she and Sharaya prepared for the trip, and then she puts it in such a way that anyone could be going through the trip, and the preparations. Ally makes it seem like anyone can do what she and her friend did…and maybe anyone really can. Perhaps not the same kind of trip, but still a trip that has a potential to change your life. Then again, every trip has a potential to do that, right?

Needless to say, I loved Packing Light. I learned a lot while I was reading it, and I bet that if I reread it again, I will learn new things too. This is exactly the kind of book that I’d recommend to read if you’re at a crossroad in your life, if you’re having a life crisis, if you’re feeling a little lost and broken and you don’t want to be alone. But even if you’re not in any of those states, I still think Packing Light is a must-read book. Ally’s experiences teach us about what baggage can do in our life, and how important it is to let go.

If you want read more about Ally’s thoughts on living a life with less, you can visit her blog here. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 98

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

Baggage is like that. You pick it up one piece at a time, and it grows heavy over time, so you hardly even realize you’re carrying it. And the only way we know we’re holding it is if we go somewhere. As long as we stay stationary, we’ll never realize how full our arms, and our suitcases, really are. but when we decide to go somewhere, we discover that we can’t take it with us. (p.18)

That’s the thing with ideas. They start small, somewhere inside of you, and nothing will happen with them until you finally speak them out loud. (p. 30)

It isn’t until we’re honest about who we really are, and what we’re really feeling, that we give others a chance to show us how brave they think we are. It isn’t until we believe in ourselves to do something radical that we invite others to believe with us. And it isn’t until those we trust tell us we’re trustworthy and brave that we actually realize how trustworthy and brave we really are. (p. 40)

Unless I let go of what I was holding, I would never get the answers to my deepest questions: is God good? Can I trust Him? Will He provide for me? Should I jump into the waterfall? (p. 48)

I wonder if what we need, more than anything, is for someone to tell us that we’re going to “make it.” No matter where we are in our journey, or what has gone wrong, I wonder if what we really need are people who are waiting for us, without judgment, willing to say, “Do what you need to do. I’ll be here when you make it.” (p. 84)

I want to be the kind of write who is awake to the realities of heaven, but engaged in the realities of this world. (p. 95)

When you are living in your passion, people around you who were once sleeping will be woken up. That’s how you know. When we become who we were made to be, we come alive, but the people around us come alive, too. Listen carefully. Watch. Are people responding? Are they changing? When we become who God meant us to be all along, we leave a wake of His presence behind us. (p.130)

Open hands to receive gifts that come, enjoy them while they last, and give freely when it’s required. Open hands that live gracefully, with gratitude, with or without a toothbrush. (p. 190)

He’s waiting for us to do something beautiful, something courageous, something totally out of the ordinary.

Your whole life is an invitation. God isn’t going to tell you the “right” answer to force you to the right direction, because if He did, He would only be stealing the joy that comes when you pick yourself. You’ll face obstacles along the way, like we did. There will be breakdowns and sickness, and losses you can’t imagine before you start. But God isn’t punishing you. He’s on your side. He’s never left you. He’ll be with you the whole way. (p. 247)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Magnolia Grace
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Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

Bittersweet by Shauna NiequistBittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist
Publisher: Zondervan
Number of pages:
252

My copy: Kindle edition

‘The idea of bittersweet is changing the way I live, unraveling and re-weaving the way I understand life. Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness.

‘It’s the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy.

‘This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be.

‘I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.

Niequist, a keen observer of life with a lyrical voice, writes with the characteristic warmth and honesty of a dear friend: always engaging, sometimes challenging, but always with a kind heart. You will find Bittersweet savory reading, indeed.

‘This is the work I’m doing now, and the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.’

* * *

If it were any other time, any other season, I probably wouldn’t have picked this up from the Kindle store. I wouldn’t have looked at this twice, because I don’t think it’s for me, or I would be interested. When was the last time I read a non-fiction, self-help book like this? I can’t remember. But I know for sure that if it were any other time early this year, or if it were any other season in my life, I wouldn’t have decided to get Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist and read it immediately after it loaded on Hannah the Kindle.

Oh, I guess it helped that the ebook was on sale when I saw it, so I bought it. But still, I wouldn’t have gotten it and enjoyed it as much as I did if it were any other time of my life.

Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist is about so many things, but mostly, about how life is bittersweet. How life isn’t always happy or sweet but we shouldn’t let the bitterness of it get to us. There is such a thing as bittersweet, and it’s the kind of life that we should appreciate, especially because all the learning and the changes and (most importantly) grace is seen in the bittersweet parts of life. This is a collection of essays and realizations about her life, and what she learned from them — from her fights with her husband to moving to a new place, from meeting new friends, having parties and serving them food and these friends moving away. From her problems getting pregnant again to broken hearts, family members dying and babies being born. The book is an honest collection of stories that the reader will definitely relate to at some point, and drives the point that life is really bittersweet.

Like I said, if I read this at any other time, I don’t think it would have made as much of a big impact as it did now. Bittersweet kept me company during the hard days, and spoke to me over and over and over again about grace and God’s faithfulness. I couldn’t relate to some of the stories Niequist wrote because I don’t have a family, and I haven’t moved away yet, but the lessons she talked about were universal, and somehow I felt like she really knew what heartache is, and she can relate to me. Her words served like a balm to my soul, and some passages made me cry several times because it felt like they were exactly what I needed to read.

In a way, it seemed like a promise, too — that whatever you’re going through, whatever your situation is, God knows it, and He will take you through it. It’s not easy, but you have a choice to view your situation as bittersweet. And from her words, it seemed like she’s healed and moved on from the hard parts of her life and if she can do it, then you definitely can, too. I needed that, and as I read the book more, I realize that maybe it was meant for me to see this book on Amazon, and to see it on sale so I can buy it.

Granted, some of the stories were a little repetitive, like stories at the end had some similarities to the stories at the start, but by the time I got to that, I was far too in love with what I’ve read for me to really nitpick about it. Despite that repetitiveness, though, the stories in Bittersweet were honest and heartfelt and real, and it made me feel that I had a friend in Shauna Niequist, even if this is the first book of hers I’ve read.

I wonder now how I would’ve reacted to this if I read this on any other time, at any other season. I know I’m being repetitive on this review with that, but I can’t help but wonder. Would I even read this at all? If I did, though, I don’t think I would’ve loved it as much as I did now. But whatever — I’m just really, really glad that this book got to me at the right time. If you’re in a tough time, if you’re experiencing bitter moments, I definitely recommend this book. Bittersweet may not make your life better in a snap, but I hope it helps you heal, just like a good book ought to do. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 114

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

I believe that God is making all things new. I believe that Christ overcame death and that pattern is apparent all through life and history: life from death, water from stone, redemption from failure, connection from alienation. I believe suffering is part of the narrative, and that nothing really good gets built when everything’s easy. I believe that loss and emptiness and confusion often give way to new fullness and wisdom. (p. 17)

Good friendships are like breakfast. You think you’re too busy to eat breakfast, but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky halfway through the day, and discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired…because there really is nothing like good friends, like the sounds of their laughter and the tones of their voices and the things they teach us in the quietest, smallest moments. (p. 65)

That’s why travel is so important, among other reasons: to get far enough away from our everyday lives to see those lives with new clarity. When you’re literally on the other side of the world, when you’re under the silent sea, watching a bright, silent world of fish and coral, when you’re staring up at a sky so bright and dense with stars it makes you gasp, it’s in those moments that you begin to see the fullness of your life, the possibility that still prevails, that always prevails. (p. 79)

If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator, and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic. (p. 83)

Now is your time. Become, believe, try. Walk closely with the people you love, and with other people who believe that God is very good and life is a grand adventure. Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned. Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path. (p. 90)

I believe deeply that God does his best work in our lives during times of great heartbreak and loss, and I believe that much of that rich work is done by the hands of people who love us, who dive into the wreckage with us and show us who God is, over and over and over. (p.94)

Our hearts are more elastic than we think, and the work of forgiveness and transformation and growth can do things you can’t even imagine from where you’re standing now. (p. 223)

My life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart…if you have been transformed by the grace of God, then you have within you all you need to write your manifesto, your poem, your song, your battle cry, your love letter to a beautiful and broken world. Your story must be told. (p.241)

Rating:

Other reviews:
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From My Bookshelf to Yours

Iscariot: A Novel of Judas

Iscariot by Tosca Lee Iscariot by Tosca Lee
Publisher: Howard Books
Number of pages: 352
My copy: ebook review copy from Netgalley

In Jesus, Judas believes he has found the One—the promised Messiah and future king of the Jews, destined to overthrow Roman rule. Galvanized, he joins the Nazarene’s followers, ready to enact the change he has waited for all his life. But soon Judas’s vision of a nation free from Rome is crushed by the inexplicable actions of the Nazarene himself, who will not bow to social or religious convention—who seems, in the end, to even turn against his own people. At last, Judas must confront the fact that the master he loves is not the liberator he hoped for, but a man bent on a drastically different agenda.

Iscariot is the story of Judas, from his tumultuous childhood to his emergence as the man known to the world as the betrayer of Jesus. But even more, it is a singular and surprising view into the life of Jesus that forces us to reexamine everything we thought we knew about the most famous—and infamous—religious icons in history.

* * *

Ever since Tosca announced that she was writing this book in 2010, I have been eagerly waiting for this to come out. I loved her first two books, Demon and Havah: The Story of Eve, and a novel about Judas Iscariot is something that I know only Tosca can write with the same heart-wrenching clarity and sensitivity that she did in her first two books. When it came up available in Netgalley, I immediately got it and saved it in my Kindle. Of course, it took me ages to finally start it, until I decided that it would be my Holy Week read.

Judas Iscariot. The traitor. The betrayer. It’s so easy to hate him, and blame him, because if he didn’t sell Jesus for 30 silver coins, then maybe Jesus wouldn’t have died. It was simple, right? But have we ever wondered that even if Judas hadn’t done what he did, would Jesus still have died? After all, it was salvation history, and it was God the Father’s will for the Son of Man. Would someone else have betrayed him? And we always associate Judas with something evil, but if he was evil, why would he even be a part of Jesus’ closest circle? Why would Jesus even call Judas friend? 

Iscariot doesn’t attempt to answer this, but instead presents what we know of Jesus’ time in an even more clarity. Tosca brings us to the heart of that time — the social and political unrest of the Jews against the Romans, the religious customs of the Jewish and how important it is to them, and how the Pharisees just seem to be everywhere. And then there’s Jesus, who shocks everyone and speaks of a radical faith, heals people, drives out demons and resurrects the dead. We see all this in the eyes of Judas bar Simon, who came from a tumultuous childhood and is desperately wishing for a messiah. When his paths cross with Jesus the Nazarene of questionable birth and he follows him together with eleven other men, he wonders if he is the one. He wonders, and dares to hope, torn between love for his master and wanting a specific vision for the people. In Iscariot, we see Jesus through human eyes — through doubting, human eyes and a heart that is so scared to hope — and it brings the readers this question: if I were Judas at that time, would I have done the same thing if I thought it was the right thing?

What an unsettling novel. It’s kind of hard to explain what effect this novel had on me. It reminds me of the Gospel during the Palm Sunday mass — you know, the one where the priest is Jesus and the mass goers are the people and we all had speaking parts in the Gospel? My heart clenched like crazy when I had to say, “Crucify him!” The second time I had to say it, my eyes burned with tears, because I knew that at several points in my life, I had crucified Christ because of my sins. And I keep on doing it whenever I fail to be loving, when I fall into sin. In Iscariot, we see Judas and the apostles in all their humanity, and how they tried to follow Jesus even if they do not understand him. Tosca weaves a story of how everything must have been like for Judas as he fights against himself in hoping that this charismatic Nazarene could be the savior of all — and how he tries to act as a good friend when he realizes that maybe his master may not be what he expected him to be. Tosca’s writing was rich and colorful, and it puts all those miracles and stories in the Gospels in a more concrete way, so much that it felt like I was also there. Here’s a favorite part, when Jesus calmed the storm:

In a flash of lightning, I saw the sandaled feet of Jesus, flagging against the floor of the boat, loosely in the water, like the body of a dead man, floating. Had he drowned, then, there beneath the stern? Had he departed from us silently, without even a word of farewell? Soon we would all be fortunate to float like that on any water here.

I told myself to let go, to lunge forward and seize him by the legs. Then the boat jinked sideways, throwing us all backward. For a horrifying instant, I thought we would capsize. I opened my mouth to cry out to him, only to be slapped in the face with a crashing wave that slapped my ears and sent my head ringing.

It was John who fell down over us, grabbing me by the arm when I nearly fell over the side. “Master! Save us!”

It was a horrid sound, that scream. I would remember it for the rest of my life.

I covered my face, trying to shield my eyes. Against the dark, I saw him, the pale of his tunic in the sluicing blackness, rising up. In my deafness, I heard him when I should not have against the screeching gale:

Be still.

The words had not been shouted to the furious wind or issued to the sky, but spoken as through directly to my heart.

I’m not very good with history or theology, so I can’t speak if this book is super accurate, but for a piece of historical “fiction”, this definitely made me think. It made me feel sympathetic at the least, and it made me see Jesus in a different light. It made me see my Savior’s passion and death in a different perspective. It made me see my own humanity, and the depth of Jesus’ love even for those who He knew would betray Him.

And aren’t we all that, anyway? Haven’t be betrayed him at some point in our life? And won’t we betray him in the future, because we are human and we are weak? And Jesus knows that…still, He loves us without a doubt.

I finished reading Iscariot before 3:00pm on Good Friday, and I was a little overwhelmed with the time and how it ended. I knew how it would end, and yet…it left me somber. It left me sad. Would there have been redemption for Judas, if he had just waited? Could he have become someone like Peter, who denied Jesus but accepted mercy which led him to become the great church leader that he is? If he had just waited until Sunday, would he have believed that Jesus was indeed the person he had been waiting for his entire life?

We would never know.

I admit that I may be just a little biased because I love everything that Tosca has written, but if you would read any of her work, I think Iscariot: A Novel of Judas is the best place to start. It’s not the easiest thing to read, but it’s one that will leave you longing for your Savior.

Book trailer:

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Rating:

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
DWD Reviews
Backing Books