Book Review: Christodora by Tim Murphy

Reviewed by Aija Oksman

Christodora had me from the start. How Murphy skilfully adopts the vernacular of each of his protagonists — whether it is a child, a young adult in a heroin hell, a gay HIV activist man, a Latina woman suffering from AIDS or just your run-of-the-mill angst­-ridden artist — enables the reader to build a sense of the individual. Not just through the evoked sensations of New York in the 80s versus New York in the now, but in a linguistic, almost tangible way. Murphy is a master in re­-creating whichever decade — as the story covers around 40 years of the protagonists’  existence  —  and  whichever character he is letting us in with. The  80s, with abundance  of references to popular culture and real historical events — especially the HIV activism in its infancy within New York’s gay scene  — as well as the real key players who were part of these changes. Mateo’s 90s and early Noughties youth of skateboards, weed and living admittedly a privileged yet unfulfilling life that directly contributes to his descend.

I physically wanted to pick up Hector, give him a hug and a meal, a warm home and mend his broken heart, I felt together with Millimom’s gut-wrenching  experience first seeing her friend and then her son struggle through the hell of addiction and its consequences, unable to stop or even much help, whilst struggling to form and hold on to an identity she has obviously painstakingly created — and it is  palpable how this identity is not even for Millicent much more than an artistic creation, crafted carefully over the many years as a daughter under Ava’s overwhelming existence, in the shadow of her marginally more successful husband or with her attempt to leave her mark in the world, which scared her beyond anything else. And I was frustrated with Jared’s dad’s distancing himself as if Mateo was not his own anymore as soon as he became a grownup with troubles too big, too real and inconvenient for his comfortable world. Mateo’s struggle with his identity as Hispanic, as an orphan, as an adoptive son, as an artist and as a drug addict  is so real it is easy to forget one’s reading fiction. Christodora’s omniscient presence, its physical impact on each characters’  development  adds to this sense of reality, knowing it is indeed real and has actually been through the phases of new York’s changes as Murphy describes.

Following path of the colourful individuals who all  share in common Christodora, a unique building that was once glorious, once forgotten and saved with a new life, allows one to interject oneself into the story, as if a witness rather than just an omniscient reader. The language and the lives of Christodora’s many colourful residents intertwine and grow, age and fail, rebuild and adapt as the world, language, popular cultures and subcultures adapt around it, making Christodora a kaleidoscopic, realistic and interesting read.

  • Published: 24 August 2017 | Publisher: Picador | ISBN: 9781509818594

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