In the New Republic, historian James Livingston writes about a newly translated novel with an intriguing premise: God is the narrator, and he recounts his very human-like travails, such as an unrequited crush on a girl. The novel is I Am God by Giacomo Sartori, translated from the Italian by Frederika Randall. It’s equal parts satire and philosophical reflection, exploring themes of male hubris, atheism, and existential anxiety. As Livingston writes, this “diary” of God has much to say about the mechanics of literature and the inevitable imperfection of creation. Here’s an excerpt:
The line the author, God or Man, crosses in criticizing the human species is this: We humans are the only creatures who know that death waits for us. We acquire that knowledge around the same time we’re born into language. Knowing that we’ll die makes us neurotic—fearful, fretful, self-conscious—and this is also what makes us human, this is what makes us tell stories, about ourselves among others. And so Sartori’s God becomes human, and knows it, insofar as He writes. It’s terrifying.
Is Giacomo Sartori, a soil scientist (for real) and the author of seven novels, just another “new atheist,” making fun of religion because it’s irrational? God, no. This novel is an utterly serious and wildly comic test of the strange idea we take for granted in reading prose fiction—the pretense of the omniscient narrator. Here he is, God-like in his knowledge of past, present, and future, and yet he’s also explaining his very particular needs, desires, urges, trying on an imagined embodiment, what would come of being a man rather than a god. All good writing, fiction or non-fiction, makes this move by placing us in a world elsewhere, taking us out of ourselves, letting us live another’s life. By speaking in the voice of God, Sartori has simplified the premise and complicated the result of writing as such. This “diary” teaches its author that perfection of any kind is inconceivable. And so he finds he’s condemned to keep revising his own creation.
Image of Giacomo Sartori via Restless Books.