UK-born T&T novelist Nicholas S Jagdeo’s The First Jew – The Resurrection of Abraham does not, in its storyline at least, travel down entirely familiar Caribbean literary terrain, but there is more than a hint of Trini engagement of diversity and conflict.
The 492-page work of speculative fiction places the ancient Hebrew patriarch Abraham, at the age of 20, smack in the middle of modern Israel and with a mission to find a long-awaited messiah.
What the young man confronts is a world that has changed dramatically, not only by way of technology and social norms, but in terms of the relationships and practices of the Abraham-inspired beliefs that drive Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
Jagdeo who says he identifies as Jewish, describes himself as “culturally Caribbean” and has “included quite a number of references to Trinidad and Tobago in the novel, both overt and otherwise, which I hope Trinidadian and Tobagonian readers will be able to discern.”
Abraham’s 21st century sojourns unveil a world completely unlike the one he left behind and leaves him in doubt over the true nature of his legacy, especially since the three religious streams that flowed from his 3,000 year old story all currently lay exclusive claim to his divine inspiration.
“I hope that the story on a whole does not seem to be proselytising for Judaism,” Jagdeo tells the T&T Guardian. “Rather, I hope it brings about discussion on the issue of the messiah, as this is a major aspect of the three respective Abrahamic religions.
“While the issue of the messiah is the dominant theme of the novel, and there is the necessary explanation of the concept of the messiah, primarily through the Judaic lens, I’ve focused on the storyline and the development of the major characters, rather than (through) preaching.”
In the end, it might well be that Jagdeo has in fact steered readers through an extensive proselytic tract but the twists and turns of an intriguing narrative are certain to provoke further thought on the prospects for religious peace while following a rather remarkable story of discovery. Could this actually be reflective of Jagdeo’s own intriguing journey from South Trinidad Presbyterianism through to Tel Aviv Judaism?
“My main concern about writing this,” says Jagdeo, “is that it can be perceived as being offensive or controversial to the wider Christian (and) Muslim Caribbean population, particularly since the Jewish concept of the messiah rejects Jesus as a candidate for this position.
“In writing this, I realised that I was really writing to two main audiences: Jewish and non-Jewish, and I want to engage both demographics.
“To my Caribbean audience, I want them to see a world which doesn’t often impact daily on Caribbean life,” Jagdeo adds. “While Jews do live in the Caribbean, our numbers are so small and our presence no longer as visible as it used to be, so it would be an interesting glimpse into Judaism and modern Israeli society.”
Expect no extensive forays into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict though. Jagdeo explains it is not “a major theme” in the novel.
“The Jewish concept of messiah is a hope for peace, and the novel does reference a hope for peace between Israel and any future Palestinian state,” he says.
Jagdeo, 34, has himself had some exposure to the impacts of the conflict. He has lived in Israel for the past ten years, moving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv only three years ago.
He was born in Colchester, England and lived for two years in Canada before moving to San Fernando at the age on nine. He attended Presentation College in the southern city.
“I already know that the book would be controversial,” he admits.
“I began writing it in 2011, when two major internal issues confronted Judaism: the issue of who is Jewish … and the issue of antisemitism.”
These are debates, including the issue of conversion to Judaism, which according to Jagdeo “continue to rage today” and are reflected in his creative narrative.
“I wondered to myself,” the author says, “(while) we consider Abraham to be the first Jew … if his (biblical) conversion were to be investigated today, he would, for all intents and purposes, not be considered Jewish.”
And what of Jesus? The Prophet Muhammad? Read the book.
The First Jew is available on Amazon.com and will be available at Nigel R Khan stores all over the country from the end of August.