The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul

Written by Jay Parini
Review by J. Lynn Else

After receiving a divine vision on the road to Damascus, Paul devotes his life to proclaiming the news of Jesus. Often accompanied by Luke who records their journeys, Paul preaches to Jews and non-Jews alike, breaking bread with anyone interested in his teachings. His inclusivity upsets many Jewish leaders, including some of Jesus’s disciples, who attempt to defame him. Thus, following the travels of this controversial figure, The Damascus Road explores the triumphs, difficulties, and life-threatening dangers surrounding Paul’s life.

Luke and Paul are resolutely committed to each other. They’re forever changed by the message of Jesus, yet their interpretations of events and Paul’s visions differ. This multilayered exploration of faith in Jesus is insightfully done. Paul is highly educated, and his ability to encompass ancient philosophies into his teachings is fascinating. However, I found characters lacking in emotional resonance. Blinded after his first divine encounter, Paul has no visceral reaction to losing his eyesight. There’s no terror, anguish, or fear, only the author telling readers how Paul feels. This “telling” is a constant throughout the narration. The spirit moves through Paul, and I wanted to be taken into these profound moments emotionally. This was a missed opportunity to deepen Paul’s message even further. That said, the broad scope of Paul’s travels provides beautiful glimpses of multiple ancient cities. Parini brings the time and places vividly to life, adding a layer of vibrancy to his prose.

Written with care and meticulous research, Paul’s life and devotion to Jesus’s message saturate the pages with ardent wonder. The people are delightfully diverse, and the setting is richly woven. An intriguing journey into the ancient world and the life of the apostle Paul.