Abraham or the Fifth Covenant
by Boualem Sansal
Gallimard, 288 p., € 21
1916: a fragile tribe leaves Chaldea. The Sykes-Picot agreements split up the former Ottoman Empire for the benefit of France and England. In this XXe century, the Middle East is still grappling with violence. The sons of Terah know that they must write history, the one that will save the world: “We moved within Genesis, not only to live it by carrying out its stories in action, but to rewrite it. Revelation is an iterative phenomenon, it is our turn to actualize it. “
The story repeats itself. And the story of Abraham is as old as the world of religions. However, we have to redo the path, keep track: “The present times demand it, it has been a long time, too long a time since humanity had prophets to lecture it and put it back on the path of truth and peace. “ From Babylon to Hebron, via Harran or Sichem, chance and destiny retrace the itinerary of the first Abraham.
The tribe identifies with the inaugural story, projects itself as a new fulfillment of the promise, responding to a new call: “We are probably the only men who live only to seek God and bear witness to Him. “ They cross time and borders, in this “Middle East which, until then, is the only place on earth where the unique God likes to manifest himself to men”. To them comes the new covenant, after those sealed by Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.
The story of the tribulations is punctuated by palaver at nightfall, when politics disputes the future with Scripture: “We have lived in this text since our birth. “ And even : “What is written must happen. “ But another retorts: “I still do not understand our determination to want to follow Genesis to the letter, I do not believe that it obliges us that much. “
The men of the clan cling to their divine mission: “The novelty is not the break with the old, it is its continuation, a new stage on the road to perfection. (…) To speak of rupture means that God is groping in the realization of His plan and is mistaken every time… ” Rich from past millennia, they wander for years to Canaan, in the tumult of this torn land. “We are free dreamers, madmen drunk on wisdom, ghosts come back to life, we dare to dream of a perfect world and of a god who wants the happiness of men. “
By telling the Genesis transposed in this XXe chaotic century, Boualem Sansal retraces humanity’s eternal spiritual quest in dialogue with silent God. Deep meditation on the future of the Alliance, the novel shows believers steeped in doubts and daring, living the Scriptures to better restore a buried hope. Brushing off religious violence and sectarian aberrations in his previous books, it is the men of peace that the writer restores here, in their clumsy, fervent, perhaps utopian, ever-renewed quest.