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This Is Why I Came

A Novel

List Price: $24.00

December 8, 2015 | Hardcover | 5.5 x 8.25, 204 Pages | ISBN 9781619025752
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“[A]n unmistakable glimmer of faith radiates from these biblical reimaginings... What the novel demands is a willingness to enter the lacunae of the familiar Bible stories and wrestle with the angel of Rakow’s poetic vision.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post

A woman sits in prayerful meditation, waiting to offer her first confession in more than thirty years. She holds a small book on her lap, one that she’s made, and tells herself again the Bible stories it contains, the ones she has written anew, for herself, each story told aslant, from Jonah to Jesus, Moses to Mary Magdalen. Woven together and stitched by hand, they provide a new version, virtually a new translation, of the heart of this ancient and sacred text. Rakow’s Bernadette traces, through each brief and familiar story, a line where belief and disbelief touch, the line that has been her home, ragged and neglected, that hidden seam.

The result is an amazing book of extraordinary beauty, so human and humorous, and yet so holy it becomes a work of poetry, a canticle, a song of lament and praise. In the private terrain of silence and devotion, shared with us by a writer of power and grace, Rakow offers, through Bernadette, her own lectio divina for the modern world.

No reader will forget this book or be able to read the Bible itself without a new perspective on this text that remains, arguably, Western civilization’s greatest literary achievement.

MARY RAKOW is the recipient of two Lannan Foundation Residencies and a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship. The Memory Room was shortlisted for the Stanford University Libraries International Saroyan Prize in Literature, a PEN USA/West Finalist in Fiction and was listed among the Best Books of the West by the Los Angeles Times. She comes to fiction from theology (Masters, Harvard Divinity School, Ph.D., Boston College) and lives in San Francisco where she is a freelance editor. For more information, visit www.thisiswhybook.com.

Praise

“But the reader starts to see a different kind of faith form, built on her revision of the testaments (particularly the Old, which is more vivid and startlingly rendered than the New). In Bernadette’s Bible, man and God are both vulnerable to each other’s disappointment, both culpable for their own mistakes. Whether God made man in his image or vice versa begins to seems moot. Either way, we’re in the soup together.” —Bookslut

“Mary Rakow’s quite extraordinary book is billed as a novel, but “agnostic gospels” would be more accurate labeling… Rakow’s feat in these fragments is to blend the gnomic and the prosaic, skepticism and wonder. At the close, the priest doesn’t just absolve the woman of sin. “To doubt the God you believe in is to serve him,” he tells her. “It’s an offering. It’s your gift.” No faith is required to pay Rakow a similar tribute. Mere mortals can use imaginative jolts like the one she delivers.” —The Atlantic

“The outlines of the Bible stories are familiar, but their characters are more rounded, more poignant in Rakow’s spare but poetic telling… These tales, and the dozens others in this short book, are all ultimately human. If we are created in God’s image, Rakow seems to say, then this deity must have the same failings we do. How we resolve them — by reaching out to each other or, at the very least, like poor Cain, coming to a greater understanding of ourselves — may be the true moral of all these tales.” —Boston Globe

“…[W]hat makes Rakow’s novel immediately distinctive is its scope… In elegant prose and fable-like fragments, This is Why I Came reimagines specific stations from the biblical saga in a way that illuminates causality and humanizes the ancient Hebrew and Greek tales. Such an approach might seem akin to the likes of Thomas Jefferson’s famous version of the Gospels, in which the miracles are redacted and the teachings retained. Yet the novel is not weighted by a sense of utility, and though Rakow holds a Ph.D. in theology, it is likewise far removed from academic allegory. Instead, This Is Why I Came is a powerful reckoning with the tension between faith and doubt, suffering and salvation. It is a restless inquiry, a wondering that gracefully swoops between anger and awe.” —Ploughshares

“Rakow’s latest novel brims with wildly imagined Bible stories, into which she infused new layers of mystery and mysticism, ambiguity and wonder. In her hands, tales we’ve heard all our lives achieve the miracle of surprise.” —O, the Oprah Magazine (1 of 16 Reads of 2016)

“[Rakow’s] cast off her academic robe for this delicate work of fiction, which is informed by the most basic human desires and disappointments… Rakow moves unpredictably from the simple, stark details of the Sunday School versions we know to her own striking emendations and elaborations… But brief as these prose poems are, they’re still capable of arresting moments and startling insights… [A]n unmistakable glimmer of faith radiates from these biblical reimaginings, even though they’re presented as the work of a woman who ‘can’t believe in God.’ What the novel demands is a willingness to enter the lacunae of the familiar Bible stories and wrestle with the angel of Rakow’s poetic vision.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Examine the book thoroughly: it’s miraculous.” —Christian Century

“Filled with brief, often poetic recastings of the Old and New Testaments… Rakow thoughtfully offers sensitive and complex readings that are free of moral thundering… An affecting flash-fiction reimagining of the Good Book.” —Kirkus

“A sense of compassion radiates from every character, and while familiarity with the Bible certainly deepens the appreciation of the book, these fabulous narratives shed light on their nameless author’s own relationship with God and illuminate religious tales ingrained in so many readers’ minds.” —Publishers Weekly

“I did not think it was possible but Mary Rakow has made the ‘greatest stories ever told’ even better. This Is Why I Came is a beautifully wrought book you won’t be able to put down.” —Reza Aslan, author of No God but God and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

“There are some novels that are nearly impossible to describe, that eviscerate us with their power and resonance. Mary Rakow’s, This Is Why I Came, gathers ancient stories like worn and dried kindling, and ignites them with a blue incandescent light. The smoke catching in my lungs, my eyes wet and red. Yet I stayed to be warmed by this new, uttering transfixing reinvention of the stories of the Bible. Through the poetry of her phrases I stood breast to breast, hearts beating, breathing the same scented air as those who have been trapped within the pages. I felt unyielding love of the two Mary’s, the vessel and the whore; the blood spattered on stone—the humanity and divinity of a questioning, complex Jesus and his disciples, and so much more. Rakow has indeed created the Newest Testament. I will never look at Scripture in quite the same way.” —Cynthia Bond, author of Ruby

“In a gorgeous melding of fable, theology, and poetry, Mary Rakow offers us versions of Bible stories that restore the gift of those stories’ strangeness, which is to say their deep humanness. This disquieting, consoling novel is a book of questions, a book of doors: a companion for the long night of our unknowing.” —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

This Is Why I Came is a remarkable and remarkably unclassifiable book. Neither revisionist text, nor compendium of Bible tales made palatable to post-modern sensibilities, Rakow’s scripture (what else can I call it?) is an entirely new creation. These holy narratives aren’t summoned forward to meet us in our present time and place. Instead, it is us she coaxes back to the when of the events as they occur. And in this book, they do occur. There is no metaphor here. A miracle is exactly that. And miracles don’t always end well. Mary Rakow has written through (and against and underneath and between) the stories we already know—or think we know. Her cadence is incantatory. The wisdom, ancient. This is a book of great and dangerous grace.” —Jill Alexander Essbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Hausfrau

“In these few exquisite pages, Rakow strips the skin of centuries from the central narratives of Western Culture, exposing the rawly human in all our grief and yearning. She portrays religion not as refuge, as gift, but as an arena of mistakes, passion and error, delusion — the profoundly disruptive encounter with God. An inflammatory, Blakean tour de force.” —Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black

“This lean volume filled my soul. Rapturously beautiful, tender, complex, Mary Rakow has written sentences and entire passages you need to read aloud to really hear the symphony of language. You can debate the message of This Is Why I Came, but you must acknowledge its wisdom.” —Samantha Dunn, author of Failing Paris and Not By Accident

“Who would dare re-imagine the stories of the Bible? Mary Rakow, that’s who. Author of a brilliant debut novel, The Memory Room, a Harvard Divinity School graduate gifted with the ear of a poet, Rakow’s long awaited second novel, This Is Why I Came is unusual, effortlessly lyrical and philosophically direct. The product of someone, rare in our time, who seems possessed of a biblical imagination. That the novel is controversial and culturally timely is clear, entering the current belief/disbelief debate in an intimate and original way. Yet the novel gifts us with far more than that. It is a ticket into a dream where the opaque feels transparent again, the shallow, profound and the presumed irrelevance of biblical characters, including God himself, is explored. In place of this rumor of our shared smallness, the transcendent quality of the world, of the ordinary, feels not only possible but logical, natural and true. As I read the last page, I was caught up in a trance where new meanings and understanding found a place to take flight.” —David Francis, author of The Great Inland SeaStray Dog Winter and Wedding Bush Road

“We think we know the Bible. We think we know these old stories like we know our bodies. But Rakow explores the silences in these texts imagining realities yet undreamt. The startling result is her long-awaited second novel, This Is Why I Came. Boldly and reverently she collapses time in her treatment of these biblical figures, grows forms and lifts the framework so that word becomes breath. She calls us to envision consciousness not enclosed in our heads or the spine of a book, even an ancient, and to many, a sacred book, but to celebrate it as alive, in constant interaction. This is what we look for in art. A vision that adds to the quality of our own consciousness, that breaks through reality as we know it. Our transfiguration. If all great art is praise, as she asserts, quoting Ruskin on her website, then This Is Why I Came is praise of the most high. In the first chapter, she imagines Adam as the Maker, driven to despair because he cannot make the form he longs to see, the form that will tell him who he is. In this, Rakow succeeds where her Adam failed. Through her protagonist Bernadette, she has made a new form that tells us who we are. In her hands, words become cups of light and symbols are given their potential to reveal, again and anew, what it is to be human.” —Julianne Ortale, editor of Women on the Edge

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