I Am God

By Giacomo Sartori

Translated by Frederika Randall

Restless Books. 224 pp. $17.99

Reviewed by R.P. Finch

As is the case with many small-press books, which often are intensely creative but which, in the absence of a stroke of luck, are often ignored by mainstream media, I Am God by the Italian novelist Giacomo Sartori, though requiring a generous dollop of abandoned disbelief, will reward readers with a memorable literary experience. As its title promises, it will satisfy readers longing for a narrator who is omniscient (literally) and, at the same time, unreliable. And cantankerous, irascible, sardonic, easily irked, petty, jealous, and, somehow, both omnipotent and vulnerable.

In this quirky and ingenious tale, an invisible stranger comes to town. The point-of-view character, God (definitely cast as a male), has written a diary, although one not organized by “days,” since for Him there are no days. He does not know why He has written it, never having deigned to dabble in human language or thought (both of which are babbling founts of evil — no other of His creatures are evil, precisely because no other of His creatures can speak).

The reader, however, does know why God has become a diarist: God is working through a personal crisis.

He has become obsessed with, indeed has fallen in love with, Daphne, a human being whom he finds irksome, not wide-eyed but wide-between-the-eyes, too skinny up top, too wide of bottom (yes, God is focused on her physical appearance, including her ankles, as well as her annoying habit of engaging in serial sexual encounters, respecting which He keeps score). Yet we find God insisting that He is not a Peeping Tom.

To top it off, Daphne is a geneticist, herself a mini-creator, splicing microbial DNA. She is a computer wiz as well, trying to hack the Vatican’s website because she is also a radical atheist who steals crucifixes to burn in her fireplace — but God is not offended. Oh, and her other avocation is to make the rounds of local dairy farms, artificially inseminating cows (there is an early scene depicting this procedure, sparing us no details) — making God a bit queasy. This is the human with whom God has fallen head over heels (if He had heels, He hastens to note) in love.

Sartori’s God is also a flâneur, spending eons sauntering through the cosmos, observing His Creation, the dance of galaxy clusters, exploding nebulas, black holes sucking matter and energy. Sartori does a beautiful job of describing such spectacular cosmic matters throughout.

Realizing that He has become enamored of Daphne, the woman in question, He becomes irritable and strikes out into the cosmic vastness to rid his mind of this obsession. But He finds that the blue dwarf stars remind Him of her eyes and the merging galaxies in their inexorable collisions remind Him of her trysts. He is God, but jealous and dismayed.

Chapters alternate between God’s cosmic strolls through the great galactic ballet, admittedly loafing about as though He were a tourist, and chapters devoted to His relationship to His creations in general and humans (and Daphne) in particular. There are passages devoted to the relationship between God and Man (whom He created without thought or architectural plan, humans simply springing forth like all of His other creations), the role of science and organized religion (He is unhappy with both), polluters and environmentalists. He also has a bone to pick with meat-eaters, as well as with vegetarians and followers of His “self-proclaimed … hippie son … going around proselytizing barefoot or pronouncing shamanic catchphrases, as often as not false.” He has a problem with gloomy churches, with people of faith who believe in heaven (“imbeciles”), as well as atheists and, especially, agnostics (He’d like to appear before them, in full robe and beard, snarling, “Somebody looking for me?”).

Readers will encounter a somewhat too intricate plot, but let it be said here that a love triangle involving Daphne is observed by a God who is both jealous and likes to watch. He denies intervening to harm her paramours (or to solve her problems), but He repeatedly does both — He may be God, but He is not above a bit of slapstick.

The text is rendered into natural, accessible, and idiomatic English, a pleasure to read, by award-winning translator Frederika Randall.

R.P. Finch is author of “Skin in the Game” (Livingston Press).