Tedesco, Mark. I Am John, I Am Paul: A Story of Two Soldiers in Ancient Rome. Academia Publishing. 2013. $12.95. 172p. PB. 978-1-300-15810-3.
Two Roman soldiers enter the legion and start to build lives for themselves. Both are from the country, and both have joined the military to seek a life bigger than the places than they are from. Naturally they become best friends. Their unit is improperly led by a man who owes his post to political ties, so John takes up the slack for him by training the troops. The leader hates John’s abilities and banishes him from the Germanic area to Alexandria, Egypt. Thus begins a story that involves the cult of Mithras, daring rescues of damsels in distress, conquering heroes returning home to fancy new villas, and a culmination that pits new faith and friends against an intolerant government.
The premise sounds like something great, but it just fizzled for me. John was left alone for far too long in Egypt before his reversal of fortune brought him back to Rome and his family. The pacing seemed uneven as some scenes felt rushed while others felt interminably long. The plot intimated a growing gay relationship between the two men that never developed. They end up living together in a custom-built villa and are added to the frescoes on the wall as John’s family keeps pressing him and Paul to find some nice women and settle down. Instead of a heartfelt confession towards each other in addition to their unbroken fraternal vows, they join the early Christian church resulting in the violent culmination of the story.
The perfection of the two protagonists lacked any sense of realism. Their flaws are so slight and they are both so giving and self-effacing and so tenacious and kind and humble and on and on and on.
This book is suggested for general collections in historical fiction with religious/inspirational themes.
Reviewer: John “Mack” Freeman