Virtual Book Tour Dates: 4/21/14 – 5/19/14
Genres: Mystery, Suspense, Fiction, Philosophy
Convinced that God is a negative force, tormenting the helpless human race, an ailing English professor becomes determined to put the deity on trial. But when he’s diagnosed with schizophrenia, he soon succumbs to the damning madness and brutally stabs and kills his wife. And in the deadly manhunt that ensues, he is ultimately shot dead by the police. This prompts his grieving sister to follow through his life’s mission to bring God to justice.
He’s now back home in California. It is another night. That tantalizing sensation overtakes his natural senses again. Growing up, he always felt a sense of discomfort that was unrelated to his illnesses, and he still feels it now. He never has been able to identify the source of his severe and unusual discomfort. He wonders whether it was his family, religion in general, or society, with its unscrupulous culture.
He thinks of his parents. “Sadly, They were at odds,” he hears himself utter. “And rightfully so.”
His mother was at home, taking care of five kids, and his father was either working or endlessly playing. His mother had a tender soul. She was simple, affectionate, and caring, and loved her children dearly. The child in him sees her before him as a pretty young woman with fair skin, brown hair, and large brown eyes. She stands by his bed; she is neither too tall nor too short and neither too slim nor too heavy, but she is mysterious. Though his mother probably never knew it, she has had an immense impact on his life that continues with him until this moment of certain hallucination.
He becomes fully awake. It is 2:25 a.m. He gets up and decides to make a cup of espresso forte. After breaking a couple of coffee cups, spilling coffee all over his kitchen counter and floor, and mumbling a few expletives, he cleans up. Now he is calm; now he will taste the fruit of his coffee-making adventure; he places the cup on his desk and starts to write.
I’m not sure my parents’ odd relationship had any effect on me. I was a happy child tormented by religion and religious people’s hallucinations. I was tormented by Egyptian hypocrisy. I’ve seen a great deal of hypocrisy, child abuse, infidelity, abuse of women, and abuse by the government, churches, and mosques.
He hears the voice of his mother; during his childhood she always read to him in bed before he went to sleep. Now she reads from the Bible. In both her wisdom and lack of awareness, she reads from the Book of Genesis and the Book of Revelations. This exposure to apocalyptic writing at a very young age has had a profound effect on him.
Being imaginative, and in this phantasmagoric state, he now experiences the same fright he experienced as a child. He returns to bed and suddenly falls asleep but is soon awoken by one of his many epileptic seizures. His body shakes uncontrollably, and his tremors seem to have a mind of their own.
As his attack gradually dissipates, he thinks of the savagery of God and questions why a peaceful God would be so cruel and nasty. These thoughts make him feel even more terrified. Since childhood he has been petrified of that entity referred to as “God.”
At age seven or eight, he developed an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He’d repeat the phrase “God forgive me” to himself all day until he went to bed. He kept this a secret because he had no idea how his mother, siblings, or Zakia would react. He remembers that he often went to Zakia, who was a Muslim, and asked her to hold him. She would oblige, and he would feel protected, even from that savage God.
He gets out of bed. It is 3:42 a.m. He makes another cup of espresso forte and sits at his desk, thinking. Again he writes.
This phase simply shaped my feelings about whether God does indeed exist. I often thought I’d be better than him or her or it, for I would not be as cruel, brutal, or malicious. Today I am an agnostic, and I can’t get myself to understand why anyone would believe in such a God as depicted in the holy books, including the Bible.
In addition to the Bible, there were other sources of great damage. Egypt is an Islamic country. I was exposed to and forced to learn about Islam and its holy book, the Quran, which is like the Bible in its catastrophic content. I was forced to learn about the Islamic laws, Sharia, even though I was a Coptic. I did so in schools, and I did so in everyday affairs. I was even forced to memorize and recite verses from the Quran, which also had a negative impact on me.
The daily prayers announced over loudspeakers, and coming from all directions, were a frightening experience for me. Everywhere in Egypt, between each mosque there is a mosque, and even that wasn’t enough. The radio broadcasted Quran readings repeatedly. Even today the memory of these sounds brings a deep downheartedness to my soul.
I remember Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind cleric who’s in a North Carolina prison now for conspiring to commit terrorism. His mosque was right behind our house. I remember Abdel-Rahman’s Friday sermons. He’d curse the Christians, Jews, and Americans (I don’t know why he cursed Americans) publically over a loudspeaker that echoed miles away. The sheikh would scream in a screeching, deafening voice, “May God burn them and displace their children, and may God burn their houses.” The congregation would repeat, “Amen.” And the pattern would continue.
This persisted for a long time. We were so used to it, however, that it didn’t bother us much. The amazing thing is that Sheikh Abdel-Rahman was a friend of my father’s. He often visited my father at his law firm and spent hours talking with him. My father considered him a harmless, kind man.
Well, for once my father was wrong. The sheikh always has been a terrorist, and he put his evil spirit into action. Fortunately he’s in prison now. I hope he never gets out.
He stops writing for a minute and wonders how the United States allowed that savage man to enter this country. Where was American intelligence? Didn’t they know how radical Abdel-Rahman was? This was simply bizarre. But the United States government overlooks such things so often that he wonders whether the word intelligence is fitting at all.
His mind is racing, and he grows exhausted with the burden of thoughts. Hoping for a few minutes of sleep, he goes back to bed. His hope materializes, or perhaps he thinks so; at the very least, he is semi-asleep.
“God on Trial” is controversial in its subject matter, because it explores religion and faith, which can be touchy topics for many people. I find religion and spirituality fascinating, and enjoy discussing and debating various topics on the subject.
The unnamed protagonist, who is slowly succumbing to undiagnosed schizophrenia, reflects upon current events in the U.S. and the world – Edward Snowden, Rupert Murdoch, the rapes and subsequent prosecution of women in Egypt and the Arab world, and other worldwide human rights violations. He also recollects his traumatic childhood in Egypt, where he suffered abuse at the hands of those very people who should have protected him – his family – and learned to fear God.
The somewhat rambling, stream-of-consciousness style that the story is told in gives the reader a more complete view of the man whose mind we’re exploring. The hallucinations woven into the narrative allow the reader to more fully grasp the confusion of the protagonist’s mind. At times you, the reader, are aware that what the character is describing is a hallucination; at other times, you (like the protagonist) can’t be certain if what’s happening is real or just another hallucination. This makes for a very disorienting read – that’s not meant as a criticism of the book; on the contrary, the author does a spectacular job setting the reader down inside the chaotic mind of the protagonist. (The fact that English is not the author’s first language – English is his THIRD language – makes his ability to express the confusion of the protagonist’s mind all the more impressive).
Some readers may be confused by the protagonist’s decision to prosecute a deity that he himself doesn’t believe in: “Today I am an agnostic, and I can’t get myself to understand why anyone would believe in such a God as depicted in the holy books, including the Bible.”
I believe the seeming discontinuity between the protagonist’s disbelief in God yet taking God to trial in absentia can be explained via his agnostic (note he doesn’t call himself an atheist) viewpoint – the protagonist professes not to believe in God, but his childhood was so full of people of faith and heavy-handed religious teachings that some part of him deep down still believes, despite his conscious adult mind telling him there is no God.
I do wish I’d had the time to read this book through another time or two before writing this review, as it’s deserving of more than one read. It is not a simple, lighthearted book, and it is not a cheerful book. It is, however, a book well worth reading – more than once.
About the Author:
The middle of five children, Sabri Bebawi was born in 1956 in the town of Fayoum, Egypt, where he attended law school at Cairo University. He then left Egypt for the United Kingdom. He was invited by Oxford University, where he spent some time, and never returned to Egypt. A few years later, after living and working in England, Italy, France, and Cyprus, he took refuge in the country he loved most, the United States.
In California he studied communications at California State University, Fullerton, then obtained a master’s degree there in English education. Later he worked at many colleges and universities teaching English as a second language, freshman English, journalism, and educational technology. He did further graduate work at UCLA and obtained a PhD in education and distance learning from Capella University.
Although English is his third language, he has published many works in English on eclectic topics. It has always been his ambition to write novels, and this is his first attempt. As English is a foreign language to him, the task of writing a novel has been challenging.
As a child, Bebawi struggled to make sense of religions and their contradictions; in fact he grew up terrified of the word God. As he grew older and studied law, as well as all the holy books, he developed a more pragmatic and sensible stance; the word became just that—a word.
What inspired you to write “God on Trial”?
Since my childhood, I have questioned god’s existence. I was born to a Coptic Christian family in Egypt, which is an Islamic country. I was forced to learn and memorize verses from the Quran; later on, I had to study it thoroughly while in Law School. When I was in High school, they gave us rifles and trained us to kill and drink the blood of the Jews. I grew very skeptical of god and his teachings in the Bible and the Quran to the point that I feared the word “god” to death. Eventually, I grew out of my fears and concluded that the word “god” is just that – no meaning, no influence, and no value. I have been determined all my life to write this message to the masses; I finally did and I am proud I did before my death. The message is that if there were a god, I would be better than it is for I cannot be that evil.
If you were to adapt your story for the big screen, who would be in your dream cast?
My character, the protagonist, will best be played by Johnny Depp and his wife played by Sophie Marceau, The lawyer, Juliana, can best be played by Sandra Bullock. I wish that Mr. Maigret be played by Robert De Nero.
Do you agree with the adage “Write what you know”?
Not necessarily. One can learn, but yes, one must know what one is writing about in order to be effective.
Do you write with an outline, or do you just “wing it”? Do you write from beginning-to-end, or do you skip around?
I first think of an outline, but through the writing process I may skip around. I now believe what I had heard before that ‘novels take a life of their own.’
What are you reading right now?
Every now and then, I like to read Shakespeare; however, now I am reading the Hispanic writer Anaya.
Who’s your favorite author (or authors, if you can’t pick just one – I know I can’t!), and why do you admire him/her/them?
I love many American, British, Russian, and French writers. The writers I love the most are those who address the human condition, and these include William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and unlike many people believe, I like Earnest Hemingway and do not think he was a misogynist at all.
Which five characters from novels would you like to have dinner with?
Benjamin “Benjy” Compson from the Sound and Fury; any of the the Bezukhovs family in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace; Altima from Anaya’s novel “Bless Me Altima”; Mr. and Mrs Ramsay from Virginia Woolf’s novel “To the light House”; and Willy Loman from “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Sadly, as a child we had read the violent unscrupulous books, the Bible and the Quran. However, I used to secretly read Agatha Christie’s books, I believe I have read them all.
What three books would you want with you if you were stranded on a desert island?
The collection of Shakespeare’s works; The collection of Virginia Woolf; and, for fun, a collection of Woody Allen’s works (I love him)
What’s an unusual quirk that you have or something unique/interesting about you?
I am compulsively tidy and neat; I am constantly being told I am very feminine though I am a hetrosexual; I am extreme opposite of the norm.
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Enter To Win:
Author Sabri Bebawi is giving away a $20 Amazon gift card and two autographed print copies of his book! The gift card giveaway (rafflecopter) is open internationally. The Goodreads’ giveaway is open to residents of the USA, CA, GB, and AU. Both giveaways will run 4/21/14 – 5/19/14.