On a dig by the Dead Sea, Evelyn finds a skeleton which she speculates may have belonged to Jesus. Her interest in the possibility spurs her not only to spirit away the well-preserved brain of the body but also to attempt to isolate some of the DNA from it. Though not a devout Christian, she has a deep respect and admiration for the man Jesus and wishes to clone him, to carry that clone within her own womb and give birth to it. It’s research she will never be able to admit to or publish, research that crosses several ethical lines.
Nevertheless, she pursues it. The choice will change not only her life but the lives of many others across the world.
In less skillful hands, this book would have become a thriller or a morality tale. Jesus Christ, back from the dead! While there are thrills in A River Divided, along with questions of morality, both are delivered in a balanced style. Paxinos has presented a skillful piece of speculative fiction, something that leans far more on the human side of matters than the scientific or fantastical. It makes this book deeply human overall, which I was pleased to find.
The first part of the book follows Evelyn and her pursuit of carrying a new Jesus in her womb. (Not to bring about any religious happenings, I should add.) Evelyn is a curious figure, one I had a deep sympathy with but, at the same time, had trouble understanding. Her son Christopher likewise felt like a distant figure to me. He was interesting, and I was intrigued by his growth from a boy into a man, but he always seemed strange and distant.
It was the third main figure in the book, José, who spoke to me most clearly. He is an Argentinian boy raised by a single mother who finds his passion in environmental activism. He felt more alive, more vital than the other characters had.
The book is not a thriller, nor is it a morality tale, though it has elements of both. It is also neither a parable nor a fable, though it could easily have become either. It still does, as all good fiction should, bring up questions for the reader.
How much of what we are is determined by our genetics? How much is determined by our environment?
What would Jesus become if he were born into our world?