Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 02/2/22 6:10 AM

Book review: Names of the Women by Jeet Thayil

Names of the Women by Jeet Thayil, Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House UK.

Thayil`s book is an interesting round-up of the forgotten women who formed the cohort that marched up the Mount of Calvary with the Christ and later,  sat on vigil under the Cross he was nailed to, long after his disciples had fled the scene. Interspersed with what the women are telling us, are what Jesus is telling Mary of Magdala while on the Cross.

The women who give us an account of their first meeting with the Christ are the sisters Mary and Martha of Bethany, Junia the widow of Jerusalem, Susanna the barren, Ariamma the Canaanite, Herodias and her daughter Shalom,  the women behind the beheading of John the Baptist, Jesus` sisters Lydia and Assia, the wife of the thief crucified with Jesus, and others. The first account is that of Mary of Magdala and ends with that of Mary, mother of the Christ.

This is no hagiography; the women speak of Jesus  with curiosity, wonder, fondness or adopt a faintly ironic tone as in his sisters` accounts, but nowhere do they genuflect, nowhere do they seem awestruck like the general populace and his disciples are, nowhere do they seem in danger of losing their heads over the Christ.

Ironically enough, to this reader at least, even as it is the women who speak, it is the Christ who shines. It is Jesus we get a clear look at, it is Jesus` doubts and inner conflicts that are laid bare, it is the son of god`s charisma that casts everything else, including the marginalised women, in the shade.

Read it for the imaginative tweak of Mary of Magdala`s story as well as a startling look at Lazarus after he was brought back to life.

fictionJeet ThayilJesus Christmarginalised women of the BibleMary of MagdalaMother MaryNames of the Women

Sheila Kumar • February 2, 2022

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