Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet
“I didn’t write this book to make Muhammad holy. I wrote it to show that holiness was just as confusing, terrifying, and exalting in the seventh century as it would be today,” Deepak Chopra explains in his foreword to his third novel about religious leaders (Buddha and Jesus are the other two). It is an extraordinary undertaking to fictionalize the story of a person admired above all others by more than a quarter of the world’s population, but Chopra’s purpose in the end is not fiction. Instead, he produces an imaginative, evocative rendition of what it must have been like to be in the company of such an individual, making his way in an environment in many ways so alien to our own.
Chopra tells the story through twenty narrators, a different one for each of the nineteen chapters, plus the Angel Gabriel narrating the prelude. Muhammad is not one of the narrators, although he is the thread that runs through each story. We hear from his wives, his relatives, his neighbors, his enemies, all in turn, presenting their individual perspectives in chronological order, making this easy-to-follow story offer a much broader picture of the prophet and his world than could otherwise be achieved in a scant 250 pages. It’s far more than just Muhammad’s story, for each one of the chapters is like a short story, with a protagonist and plot interesting in their own right.
Some knowledge of Muhammad’s biography would be helpful before starting this novel, and for those not familiar with Islam, an advance look at Chopra’s afterword, explaining key aspects of the faith, will be clarifying. Even without such background, the reader is likely to enjoy the economy and lucidity of style Chopra brings to his fiction.