"Three men, a woman and, too far behind for anyone to guess its gender, a fifth. And this fifth one was bare-footed and without a staff. No water-skin, or bag of clothes. No food. A slow, painstaking figure, made thin and watery by the rising mirage heat, as if someone had thrown a stone into the pool of air through which it walked and ripples had diluted it...."
So begins Jim Crace's Quarantine, a huge literary sensation when it was first published in Great Britain last year, winner of the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award, and a finalist for the Booker Prize. Hailed as "extraordinary," "dazzling," "passionately imagined," and "absolutely compelling," it tells the story of five wandering souls, each making the arduous journey into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days. Among them is Gally, a mysterious and frail young man who accidentally heals a dying merchant after stumbling upon his campsite. His curative powers quickly revealed as the Messiah's work, Gally is lured by his fellow travelers -- led by the recovering merchant -- to leave his cave and break the quarantine. With lyricism and a vivid eye for detail, Jim Crace re-creates the harsh Judean landscape where Jesus famously tested his faith during 40 days of physical and mental endurance.
- Costa Book Awards
- Man Booker Prize for Fiction
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
March 15, 1999
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Excerpt from Quarantine by Jim Crace
Miri's husband was shouting in his sleep, not words that she could recognize but simple, blurting fanfares of distress. When, at last, she lit a lamp to discover what was tormenting him, she saw his tongue was black -- scorched and sooty. Miri smelled the devil's eggy dinner roasting on his breath; she heard the snapping of the devil's kindling in his cough. She put her hand on to his chest; it was soft, damp and hot, like fresh bread. Her husband, Musa, was being baked alive. Good news.
Miri was as dutiful as she could be. She sat cross-legged inside their tent with Musa's neck resting on the pillow of her swollen ankles, his head pushed up against the new distension of her stomach, and tried to lure the fever out with incense and songs. He received the treatment that she -- five months pregnant, and in some discomfort -- deserved for herself. She wiped her husband's forehead with a dampened cloth. She rubbed his eyelids and his lips with honey water. She kept the flies away. She sang her litanies all night. But the fever was deaf. Or, perhaps, its hearing was so sharp that it had eavesdropped on Miri's deepest prayers and knew that Musa's death would not be unbearable. His death would rescue her.
In the morning Musa was as numb and dry as leather, but -- cussed to the last -- was gripping thinly on to life. His family and the other, older men from the caravan came in to kiss his forehead and mumble their regrets that they had not treated him with greater patience while he was healthy.