Saturday, February 1, 2014

Book Review: God on Trial

I am super excited to be a new reviewer for Bookplex! I have grown up loving to read, and hope you enjoy the reviews. First up - God on Trial, by Sabri Bebawi.

“His mind raced like a baboon on steroids”


That pretty much sums up “God on Trial.” In his dramatization of a schizophrenic’s quest to hold God accountable for all the sins of humanity, author Sabri Bebawi explores some of the questions that leave many individuals - religious or not - struggling to come to grips with the world as we know it. If God is omniscient and loving, how can he allow abuses such as the main character endured such as childhood sexual assault, as well as global injustice like war or slavery? Indeed, one may ask how God could allow something like mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.


Interestingly to me, the author immediately jumps to the position that A) God does exist - for how can you put to trial someone who does not and has never existed, even if you have to try Him in absentia and B) He is ultimately responsible for all the ills of the world, although no mention of Him having a hand in anything good in the world is ever addressed. I think that the main character’s mental health issues may be a bit of a crutch in this instance, because if anyone genuinely pursues legal action, anticipating the defense is a crucial step, even if the suit is filed in the fictional “International Court of Justice.” While I found the schizoprenia an interesting part of the character’s development, because it was blatant from very early on in the novel it made a lot of things easy to dismiss, including some of the chaotic ramblings of the character and perhaps some of the writing depth. I think I would have preferred for that to be a revelation at the end, just after the reader convinces himself that perhaps he has a point about God. In addition, the character suffering the effects of undiagnosed schizophrenia in his late fifties is a bit of a jump for anyone who has ever interacted with the mental health setting, as schizophrenia is well known as an early-onset disease, usually being diagnosed during early 20’s and if left untreated a schizophrenic individual is more likely to end up living in a prison or mental health institution rather than independently.


As interesting as the subject matter is, I found the argument presented in a rather confusing way. Some of this could be attributed to the main character’s mental state, but as stated before this can only be a crutch for so long. The character descriptions of his hallucinatory friends are just that, basic character descriptions that an author would use when fleshing out bits of the story. Rather than revealing their nuances during the story he gives a basic description at the character introduction like, “He is a typical commissioner or inspector detective.” I also found it distracting when the author jumped from several points of view that were not the character’s hallucinations - for instance at the end the story began to be told from the detective’s point of view rather than the main character’s. There are also a few little clues to the author struggling a bit with English, which is not Bebawi’s first language, such as the name “Savanna” being spelled two different ways, Savana at the beginning and Savanna at the end. That being said, knowing that it is not his first language he does a good job navigating the format of fiction.


The premise of putting God on trial is an interesting one, however I’m not sure that this book fully fleshes it out. The idea of fictionalizing it makes it more approachable, setting it in the mind of schizophrenic gives the reader a safe but ultimately easily dismissed space to contemplate, and the fact that basically all the evidence presented was a few verses in the Torah, New Testament and Qur'an leaves the reader wondering what exactly was the point of the story - that the idea is only contemplated by those with mental health issues or that fictional trials actually can help resolve issues? In the end basically it seemed that the point of schizophrenia running in families was made rather than the idea of prosecuting God is a valid notion.
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