Book Review – “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Andre Gide

I became giddy when I found that Walter Ballenberger had translated yet another work of Andre Gide’s. Discovering Gide wrote his own rendition of a parable made this discovery Biblical in proportion for me. As I’ve learned from novels such as The Immoralist and especially Corydon, Gide didn’t hold back in terms of taking shots at society and social mores. I jumped in to “The Return of the Prodigal Son” with stratospheric expectations.

While not the controversial polemic I anticipated, I still enjoyed the story. It took me between a mere half-hour and 45 minutes to read, but it contained a deep multi-layered premise. The concepts of searching, liberty and service repeated throughout the story. During a discussion between the Prodigal Son and his mother, the following exchange appeared.

“I was not looking for happiness.”

“Then what were you looking for?”

“I was looking for…who I was.” (Loc 157)

While speaking with the Youngest Brother, the Prodigal Son revealed the following thoughts.
“I lost the liberty that I was searching for. I became captive in having to serve others.” (Loc 243)

And

“Ah! To serve or not to serve, does one not have the liberty to choose his serfdom?”

“I was hoping for that. As far as my feet carried me, I walked, like Saul in pursuit of his asses, in pursuit of my desire, but where I was awaiting a kingdom, it was misery that I found. And, however…”

“Did you take the wrong route?”

“I marched straight ahead.” (Loc 251)

The author presented most of the story in the form of dialog, a la Corydon, limited to two characters at a time. After rehashing the original story of the Prodigal Son, the author included more chapters to explicate it. In each, the protagonist discussed his journey with his father, older brother, mother, and youngest brother, respectively. All of these elements gave the story an intriguing structure.

I’d recommend Gide’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” to a wide audience. Those familiar with the New Testament parable will enjoy the author’s interpretation. People interested in great French Literature will also find it enlightening. Even though brief, deep, philosophical people will get the most out of this tale. If one does happen to read it after reading this review, please clue me in on the meaning in the various layers of the story.

Gide once wrote, “Believe those who seek the truth, doubt those who find it.” Nothing illustrates his application of that view better than “The Return of the Prodigal Son”.

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