Plot: Donald Burge's Blind Journey is a crisp, exciting, thoughtful historical adventure novel that follows a blind, nameless goatherd and his brother Zizi from their raided desert village to Damascus and then Jerusalem. The boys face desert cats, imprisonment by nomadic bands, and dehydration, situations that Burge dramatizes with suspense and a refreshing realism -- the boys are brave, but they're not action heroes. As the boys flee raiders, they discover purpose in a rumor they've heard: that a prophet in Jerusalem can restore sight to the blind. Burge offers tantalizing glimpses of people and events familiar from the Gospels, but the story's heart is always on its protagonists, who must make their own way, using their own faculties, through a world long lost to us. Burge also shrewdly avoids charges of "ableism" by demonstrating throughout his story that the protagonist's blindness is a difference rather than a wound to be healed.
Prose/Style: Burge excels at clear, engaging action and convincing, revealing dialogue. That's crucial, because the novel's narrator is blind and cannot describe what his world looks like, so its revealed to us through the other senses. Often, Burge finds possibilities in the lack of physical description; at times, though, the prose becomes thin, with just dialogue and brusque statements of action. The prose in the opening chapter is not especially inviting, and there accounts of the protagonist's actions are often cluttered with extra clauses and phrases. The prose will grow leaner in later chapters, and the narrator will increasingly confide to the reader in compelling direct address, which greatly enriches the storytelling.
Originality: Historical fiction set against the backdrop of the crucifixion of Jesus is not especially new. But Burge invests the material with vigor, heart, and wisdom, and the author wisely avoids letting divine intervention solve his characters' problems. The novel's suspense, in many ways, centers on whether the boys will meet the prophet -- and whether this is the kind of book in which miracles occur. That's unique and fascinating.
Character Development: The narrator is a strong, stirring creation, a young man who has developed courage and skill despite having essentially been outcast in his village. The boys triumph over their trials but only at great cost. The book's climax is no battle or glimpse of divinity; it's the protagonist discovering how his years as a goatherd have given him a skill that can secure him his place in the world -- and do some good.
Blurb: This thoughtful and exciting historical novel seamlessly weaves the daring desert-crossing journey of a blind goatherd and his brother with readers' knowledge of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The adventure is crisply written, always exciting, and richly evocative of desert life and ancient ways of thinking. The suspense lies in the fascinating question of whether this brutally realistic novel will or will not build to an encounter with the "Hebrew prophet" the boys have heard can restore sight to the blind.
Date Submitted: June 18, 2020