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Mario Boivin. L'interrogatoire Pilate.

Mario Boivin. L'interrogatoire Pilate. Montreal. Levesque. 2011. ISBN 9782923844787

In the spirit of Robert Graves's I Claudius (1934), Quebecois author and theater director Mario Boivin has constructed an elaborate historical fiction in which the Roman emperor Tiberius obsessively interrogates the witnesses to a crucifixion--whose victim, one Yeshoua Bar Yossef (also known as Christus), seems to have inexplicably survived, even though he is now nowhere to be found, alive or dead. Presenting his book as the accurate "transcript" of the long interrogation (miraculously unearthed by an archaeologist), Boivin, who has obviously conducted extensive historical research, provides through trenchant dialogue and clever plot twists a fresh look at an old story. The reader does have to accept the somewhat dubious premises of this original narrative: that the execution of an obscure cult leader in a remote corner of the Roman Empire would be of so much import during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE), and that the emperor himself, who ruled from his palatial retreat on the island of Capri, would somehow feel threatened by the purported resurrection of Yeshoua.

Part legal inquiry, part mystery whodunit, the fictional plot, constantly doubling back and folding in upon itself through the process of the repeated interrogation of multiple witnesses with divergent motives and viewpoints, revolves around the emperor's urgent need to bring to light (and of course to crush) a criminal plot that was devised to save a rabble-rouser who had originally been only a minor nuisance, but whose inconceivable emergence from the grave after a very public execution constitutes an embarrassment and, potentially, a threat to the stability of Pax Romana. Initially hidden behind a curtain that allows him to silently observe the proceedings, Tiberius (whose divine status is often mentioned) nevertheless repeatedly intervenes through the use of an incongruously small bell, thus sending signals to the magistrate who serves as his surrogate during the first part of the interrogation, in the course of which the wife of Pontius Pilate, the Roman officers who supervised the crucifixion of Yeshoua, and Saul of Tarsus are successively and harshly questioned. The exalted emperor suddenly reveals himself when Pontius Pilate is brought in, followed by Myriam of Magdala and Nikdamon Ben Gurion. (Other minor characters, some of whom are destined for execution, round out the cast.)

While the author has gone to great lengths to inject a sense of verisimilitude through the use of precise historical details (including a ghastly account of exactly how a crucifixion was carried out), he has also willfully inserted anachronisms that incite the reader to shift from past to present, and to examine each in light of the other. The use of the word "integriste" (fundamentalist), for example, in the context of a region described by the Roman characters as torn between rival groups of religious fanatics, provides more contemporary and thought-provoking echoes. Overall, in this well-balanced amalgam of historical context and innovative storytelling, the pace is brisk, the dialogues are incisive, the threat of gruesome violence is always lurking in the background, and the final plot twist offers up more than just another conspiracy theory. Mario Boivin's well-crafted literary experiment makes for fascinating reading.

Edward Ousselin

Western Washington University
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Author:Ousselin, Edward
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2012
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