Taking us around the world in around two hundred and fifty pages, along with reliving the world through the lens of the twentieth century, this book by Ben Stoltzfus carries readers on a journey of mind, body, and soul in an intensely enrapturing narrative.
To begin with, the tale starts simply. If one were to ask anyone today to describe their routine, it would simply revolve around a monotonous work-home structure – a shared global framework of today. However, things were not even close to being this definite less than a century ago, and this can be seen in a subtle hint where the third task in our fourteen-year-old narrator’s routine in the morning is to pick up a gun. This is one of the many turbulences ingrained in the writing over the course of the read that sheds light on vastly different circumstances encountered in the lives of the people of that period.
A budding young mind can be compared to that of an empty vessel. It initially accepts anything and everything poured into it without bias, a naivety it loses once it is filled to the brim. After which, the vessel gains control over what is and what is not necessary, thereby pouring out the learned material on its own capacity. Similarly, the journey of this boy leads him on a path of emotional, physical, and spiritual maturity that indulges readers to rethink what it feels like to view the world’s ideals from a blank canvas.
With the tense of the present in the narrative, an intimate connection is established between the reader’s mind’s eye and the protagonist who simply journals his teen years in the world of fight and survival. While the first prologue sets the disposition, the second one establishes the setting – the two main wheels to drive a plot forward with an axle of words. Of course, once in flow, the dark side of the narration can be sensed where the animosity of countries and lands can be seen in these young minds too, as mentioned in a few classroom settings between the protagonist and his friends. Games like the one introduced by Boka or the teacher’s treatment of Andre all hint towards the norm of unacceptance and violence that surrounded the air.
Picture this: a game of Jenga. where the players are leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, and the Soviet Union. Whereas the blocks themselves are people. Soldiers. Lives. In the world of fascists and liberals, the narrator’s family somehow strives through as pacifists, which quite contrasts books showing the rough edge of World War II, which had a stronger hold on people than territories. While on the one hand, the book acts as a documentary in words, narrating the happenings of the war, updating as and when the situation changes, there is also a more fascinating aspect of self-discovery and maturing in the boy’s life. The filling to the brim.
An irony presents itself when growing up involves differentiating sin from salvation. To an adolescent hitting puberty, this turns out to be quite a task, where Archangel and Satan end up becoming constant debating counselors to his soul, only to turn into ‘Archie’ and ‘Stan’ by the end of it. This is again one of the many brilliant ways the author has shown maturity without taking the aid of philosophy, as commonly observed. Early in the book, the conflict starts in the mind with seduction and lust (several questionable outcomes from it as well) in contrast with redemption and love. Delving into the web of lust, the boy finds himself in the illusion of traveling the seven seas through Mirka, only to distinguish this infatuation from love when he meets Mirelle and finally to realize with Joyce that feelings are prerogative to the mind’s caprices. This is beautifully entwined with the Greek lore of the Three Graces, where Aglaia is brightness, Euphrosyne is joyfulness, and Thalia is a bloom. Initially, the boy finds Archangel to be cruel and strict, whereas Satan is more empathetic and lenient. ‘Archangel drowns me, Lucifer resurrects me’ – should one view the drowning as a cleansing of the soul, does that alter the entire interpretation? This simile soundly resonates with each of our own decision-making driven by our very own Lucifers and Archangels. These conversations also show the moral structure of society and the language of conscience based on Christian teachings, slowly sieving out the doctrine from the law, only to reach the conclusion that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a sinner to enter God’s kingdom. After all, is that not the final abode of all souls that wander God’s green Earth?
‘God is nowhere.’ How did you read it? There are two possible interpretations of these conjoined words – ‘God is now here’ and ‘God is nowhere.’ This book hits the bull’s eye precisely in experiencing such moral interpretation grounds where every conversation with Lucifer or Archangel is, in fact, a converse with the conscience. Through the smog of war, the erotic literature of lust, and sailing in solitude across continents, the protagonist finally deciphers that the existence of the soul is everywhere and nowhere. This aids a crucial part of the learning curve molding his character.
This journey of growing up further intensifies when the protagonist travels around, being displaced by the war currents to the safety of a shore. With traveling comes the very many intriguing stories. Every chapter is a new story, be it of culture (the descriptions of the essence of India in the Himalayas, the city of Banaras), history (stories of Suleiman the Magnificent, Ottoman conquests), or mythology (Greek tales of Kronus and Smilax). The book acts as a glossary to navigate thoroughly into world history and culture. Traveling around, exploring stories of Odalisque, poems of T.S. Eliot, tales of African and Indian freedom struggles, the maturing mind finally concludes that, just like the unexplored depths of the ocean, the vastness of the ocean compared to the limits of all there is to know. Ships sailing are us humans traversing and navigating through the storm called ‘life,’ but storms prove to simply push the mast towards the right direction after all.
Get your copy of “Transgression” by Ben Stoltzfus on Amazon today and embark on an enthralling journey. Don’t miss out on this captivating read—order now and immerse yourself in the world of “Transgression.”
Also Read: Transgression: Exploring Guilt, Self-Discovery, and Conflicting Socialization – An Interview with Author Ben Stoltzfus