- L’échelle de Jacob (Jacob’s Ladder)
Tr. Lim Yeong-hee and Mélanie Basnel 2016358pp.
The French edition of Gong Ji-Young’s latest book is certainly eye-catching. Not that the cover is provocative; on the contrary, your attention is drawn by the soothing image of candles glowing serenely against a dark background. Their flames dancing in response to an unseen breath, they suggest silent reverence in the face of divine mystery. Then you notice the novel’s title, Jacob’s Ladder, and the line from William Blake that opens the first chapter: “And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.”
Gong Ji-Young draws on the sources of the Bible and poetry to take her reader on a journey to the fringes of the religious and the human. She brings to life the words of a monk, now in his forties, recounting an episode from a decade prior. Brother Jean describes his moments of affirmation, doubt, and anger—and his internal revolt in the face of an unanswered “why.” His story speaks of the absurd and the sacred.
Aged twenty-eight, the young novice is preparing for his ordination. Yearning for the eternal, he wants to become a Benedictine monk and live an austere, abbey-bound existence. The rituals of prayer calm his energetic body while his spirit soars with a serene joy; not a shadow hangs over this existence. Jean is joined in this blissful state of balance by Michaël and Angelo. Together, the three monks walk the road of spirituality, sharing their views and uncertainties, never hesitating to crack open a good bottle of wine when the occasion arises. They might easily have led uneventful lives. But whatever our situation, the trials of existence are unavoidable, and even the walls of a monastic cell cannot protect us from pain and grief.