The Gospel According to the New World

Reading guide: The Gospel According to The New Word by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox

Shortlisted for the International Booker Prize 2023, The Gospel According to the New World is a modern-day retelling of the story of Christ, set in the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Americas

Whether you’re new to the book or have read it and would like to explore it more deeply, here is our comprehensive guide, featuring insights from critics, our judges and the book’s author and translator, as well as discussion points and suggestions for further reading.

Publication date and time: Published


Baby Pascal is strikingly beautiful, brown in complexion, with grey-green eyes like the sea. But where does he come from? Is he really the child of God? So goes the rumour, and many signs throughout his life will cause this theory to gain ground.  

From journey to journey and from one community to another, Pascal sets off in search of his origins, trying to understand the meaning of his mission. Will he be able to change the fate of humanity? And what will the New World Gospel reveal?

Maryse Condé

The main character


The central figure in the narrative is Pascal, who was abandoned by his mother, Maya at birth on Easter Sunday. He is a source of pride to his foster mother, Eulalie, who takes him to shops and parks to show him off. Pascal’s racial ambiguity coupled with his mysterious birth and a series of seemingly miraculous occurrences lead many to believe that he could be the son of God, a rumour that Eulalie does not discourage. As he grows older, Pascal embarks on a journey to discover the truth about himself and, ultimately, fulfill his destiny. 

The Gospel According to the New World

About the author and translator

About the author

Born in Guadeloupe in 1934 as the youngest of eight siblings, Maryse Condé is considered the Grande Dame of Caribbean literature.

Condé taught Francophone Literature at Columbia University in New York, where she lived for many years. She has also lived in various West African countries, most notably in Mali. Here, she gained inspiration for her worldwide bestseller Segu, for which she was awarded the African Literature Prize and several other respected French awards. She was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2015 for her complete body of work. Condé has been awarded the New Academy Prize in Literature as well as the Cino Del Duca World Award for her oeuvre. She also received the Grand Cross National Order of Merit from President Emmanuel Macron in 2020. Condé first conquered the hearts of many readers in English-language territories with her novels The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana and Waiting for the Waters to Rise, longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature in the US.  

About the translator

Richard Philcox is Maryse Condé’s husband and translator. He has also published new translations of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks.
Philcox has taught translation at various American colleges and won grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts for the translation of Condé’s works. His translation of Condé’s Waiting for the Waters to Rise, published by World Editions, was longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature in the US, and his translation of her Crossing the Mangrove, first published in French in 1989, is now a Penguin Classic.

Richard Philcox

What the International Booker Prize judges said

‘Maryse Condé is one of the greatest Francophone authors and the great voice of the Caribbean. In this book she proves again what a gifted storyteller she is. The narration is lively and fluid, and we feel carried away by this story as we do by the fables of our childhood. She takes liberties, finding references in the Bible as well as in Caribbean myths. The book borrows from the tradition of magic realism and draws us into a world full of colour and life. This is a book that succeeds in mixing humour with poetry, and depth with lightness.  

‘It is a book full of wisdom and love, written by an experienced author, who puts all her storytelling talent to good use. Readers will be charmed by the fluidity of the narrative, the beauty of the descriptions, but also by the extraordinary optimism, the faith, that emanates from this novel.   

‘Maryse Condé reminds us of the virtue of utopias: if we are not able to dream of a better world, we will not find the means to make it happen. Of course, we tend to mock messiahs, activists who present themselves as prophets - look at Greta Thunberg! - but we need them to defend the great causes of humanity.

‘What is unique is the balance between a simple, uncluttered style, a classical form, and the immense ambition of the subject, since Maryse Condé is trying, no more and no less, to rewrite the Gospel and the life of Jesus.’

Read more of the judges’ comments here.

International Booker Prize judges 2023

What the critics said

Publishers Weekly

‘French novelist Condé delivers an ingenious bildungsroman of a messianic figure in contemporary Martinique. After a young woman named Maya gets pregnant, she has a recurring dream in which an angel says her child will “change the face of the world”. It’s not what she wants to hear; in fact, she keeps her pregnancy a secret from her family, giving birth alone and abandoning the baby in a shed on Easter Sunday at Jean-Pierre and Eulalie Ballandra’s Garden of Eden plant nursery. The couple find the boy and name him Pascal, and thus begins his divine journey, in which he later seeks to understand his origin and purpose. As a young man, his “miraculous” success as a fisherman brings the country to the verge of rioting. Other biblical episodes involve a disabled man named Lazare and Pascal’s future betrayer Judas Eluthere, who fronts an anticolonial rebellion. Condé does a lovely job with bringing her protagonist down to earth, covering the sacred and profane elements of Pascal’s life before his death at 33 in a tragic, unexpected manner. Readers will be transfixed.’ 

The Irish Times

‘The recipient of many awards, including the Alternative Nobel Prize, Condé remains clear-sighted about the opportunistic corruption of many postcolonial regimes but never loses sight of the resourcefulness, creativity and complex humanity of her literary creations, which resist the condescending compassion of the white man’s tears. Her latest, compelling novel does not preach but it does instruct – on what happens when we flip hemispheres and show that gospel truths are always plural.’

Her latest, compelling novel does not preach but it does instruct – on what happens when we flip hemispheres and show that gospel truths are always plural

What the author and translator said

It took me roughly a year [to write the book] and because of my loss of vision I had to dictate the text to a friend as well as my husband. This obliged me to write each chapter in my head. I was sensitive to sound and meaning because the writer is also a musician

What the author said

‘My mother was a devoted believer and my father a confessed atheist and an ardent critic of my mother’s religious beliefs. I wanted to translate this dichotomy in my novel into humour and irony, but I didn’t have the courage until I read José Saramago’s The Gospel according to Jesus Christ and the South African author J.M. Coetzee’s trilogy on the same subject.  

‘It took me roughly a year [to write the book] and because of my loss of vision I had to dictate the text to a friend as well as my husband. This obliged me to write each chapter in my head. I was sensitive to sound and meaning because the writer is also a musician. The process was delicate and complex. I endeavored to give to the person I was dictating to the version I had written out in my head.’ 

Read the full interview here.

What the translator said

‘The book took roughly six months to translate. As husband of the author, I read the book first, locating the potential problems for translation. Since we travel together, listen to the same music, and knowing where the author’s inspiration comes from, my working process is helped by all these factors as well as the sound of her voice, which I hear every day. 

‘Even though the book was dictated, I didn’t start translating it until Maryse was satisfied with the final version. A translation can be considered a work of literature on its own and Maryse has always said it’s the translator who becomes the author. There was very little collaboration between us, except when I needed to ask questions about the author’s poetic license and the ambiguity of the French language. Translating Caribbean fauna and flora is a challenge which fortunately can be solved by the many dictionaries and glossaries on the subject we have in English.’

Read the full interview here.

Questions and discussion points

The Gospel According to the New World centres on the life of Pascal, a young man who is depicted as a Christ-like figure on a quest to find his benevolent and loving father. Condé has said that she found the courage to retell the story of Christ after reading ‘José Saramago’s The Gospel according to Jesus Christ and the South African author J.M. Coetzee’s trilogy on the same subject.’ Why do you think writers are fascinated by and compelled to write about the gospel story? 

As with much of her previous fiction, Condé examines the history and the politics of the Caribbean. The Gospel According to the New World is set in a fictionalised Caribbean island similar to the author’s native Guadaloupe: an ‘overseas department’ that is beautiful, temperate and crowded with tourists. How does the novel’s wild, Caribbean setting contribute to Pascal’s story?

The novel shows how, as Pascal grows up, he and his friends are routinely persecuted. They are ‘ridiculed, jailed unjustly, ostracized [and] disenfranchised’. Pascal also speaks against the mistreatment of women, immigrants, the disabled, and the destitute. Why do you think Condé writes of these injustices? In what ways can the novel be used as a weapon in the fight for social justice? 

The Gospel According to the New World is a novel about belief. While the book recounts a modern version of the story of Christ, there are other faiths and forms of belief present in the text. What is the effect of Conde’s inclusion of multiple faiths and conceptions of the world in the text? Does it push us towards a more expanded and tolerant world-view? 

The Booker judges said the book ‘plays with our need to believe in a Messiah’, even though we tend to mock such figures. Condé has stated that her mother was a devoted believer while her father an atheist and ‘an ardent critic of my mother’s religious beliefs’. She said wished to translate this ‘dichotomy in my novel into humour and irony’. Why do you think Condé chose humour to confront these opposing views?

Condé has stated that she spent roughly a year writing because vision loss caused her to ‘dictate the text to a friend [and her] husband.’ She said she was ‘sensitive to sound and meaning because the writer is also a musician.’ What do you think she meant by this, and what aspects of the ‘sound’ of the writing captivated or intrigued you? 

The Irish Times noted that ‘Pascal is a reluctant Messiah, however. He drinks. The worship of his followers irritates him. When his teachings are quoted back to him, the only thing that strikes him is their banality.’ Does Pascal’s disdain for his worshippers and his human traits endear him to you as a reader? Does Pascal’s fallibility enable us to see the human in the divine, or the divine in the human? 

Condé’s depiction of Pascal as a Messiah unites the sacred with the sensual. His rage against injustice is portrayed alongside his amorous tendencies. Why do you think the author chose to show Pascal in this light? Does it change the way we think about religion and desire? 

The judges write that it is a book ‘full of wisdom and love.’ What did you make of the novel’s representation of love, particularly in the relationship between Paul and his absent father? Does Condé suggest that longing is inherent to all love? 

The novel is also concerned with journeys, in the case of Pascal, his Messianic life takes him across the Americas. Travel is a recurring motif in many of Condé’s earlier works, such as the novel Segu which takes the reader from Europe, the Americas to Africa and back again, simulating the triangular trade. Which of the many journeys undertaken by Pascal resonated with you the most? In your view, what is the significance of journeys in the novel? 

The Gospel According to the New World

Resources and further reading

The Guardian: Maryse Condé: ‘An English author can reach the heart of a Caribbean child’

London Review of Books: I write in Condé

The New York Times: Maryse Condé, at Home in the World:

Tony’s Reading List: review


If you enjoyed this book, why not try…

Segu by Maryse Condé 

Crossing the Mangrove by Maryse Condé 

Return to My Native Land by Aime Cesaire 


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