I usually shy away from books dealing with religion and Bible stories, especially since my reading mainly focuses on horror and fantasy novels. But I was intrigued by the strong historical element of The Breath of God, and it turns out the novel’s unusual mix of religious doctrines, romance, action and mystery made for a thrilling and inspiring read. Jeffrey Small takes us from the comforts of academic life in America to the exotic but squalor-filled streets of India, and besides telling a rip-roaring story, he gives the reader something to think about along the way.
Emory University student Grant Matthews is kayaking down dangerous rapids in Bhutan with an experienced river guide when they have a horrible accident. Grant nearly drowns during the plunge from a twelve-foot fall into a whirlpool, but luckily he is rescued by a monk named Kinley and brought to a nearby monastery to recover. With a severely broken leg, Grant is stuck at the monastery, but as fate would have it, the river has fortuitously landed him in the exact place he needs to be. Grant is searching for information on a boy named Issa whose travels through India may shed light on Jesus’ missing years in the Bible, and he’s just met the man who can help him discover the truth. At the monastery he meets another student named Kristin who joins him in the search for Issa’s original texts and serves as a romantic interest for Grant.
In alternating chapters, Small introduces the reader to the other players in the story. In Birmingham, Alabama we meet the Reverend Brian Brady, a popular and charismatic preacher whose New Hope Church views all religions but Christianity as evil influences. He even views the practice of yoga as non-Christian. But when word leaks out about Grant’s discovery of the story of Issa and that he may have actual proof all religions are connected, Brady sets out to destroy this evidence that would have a calamitous effect on his religious empire.
We also meet Tim Huntley, a bitter religious fanatic and a member of Brady’s church who entangles himself in the plot to rid the world of the Issa texts. Huntley is the perfect “bad guy.” He suffers from eczema, and Small’s descriptions of his red and peeling skin add to his monstrous personality. Huntley, a former member of the Special Services, has no compunctions about using bombs and guns to keep Brady’s doctrines intact, and before long he is on a plane to India to track down Grant and silence him before the Issa texts can be brought back to America.
In the midst of some very exciting chase sequences and the sense that the clock is ticking, Small infuses his story with well-researched historical details, and through the voice of Kinley he suggests that God is a flame that resides in all of us. Kinley spends many hours teaching Grant to slow down and focus on this flame instead of worrying about his future, while incorporating the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism. The author also inserts several chapters of translated text from Issa’s journals that take the reader back 2,000 years and attempt to explain what could be the roots of Jesus’s teachings. It was fascinating to read about the many parallels among Christianity and the eastern religions, which supported Grant’s belief that history is very important to the truth of religion.
From the grandeur of the Taj Mahal to a small monastery perched high on a cliff, The Breath of God propels the reader through the final pages with an abundance of action, suspense and bloodshed, while reminding the reader that the heart of the novel lies in finding the truth. Grant’s journey, which starts with trying to locate a piece of religious history, comes full circle as he discovers something about himself as well. As in all well-written and constructed novels, this one delivers on many levels. No matter which religion you lean toward (and even if you don’t lean toward one at all), this book will surprise you and make you think. Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher, West Hills, for supplying a review copy.