George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Third Series, "Justice"
Written in free verse literary fiction, Justice, A Two Sons Diptych is short and different, and it will fit into your reading schedule as a quick read with a thoughtful social challenge. Social controversy stirred by Justice, A Two Sons Diptych is sure to be intense and enduring. The theological challenge is unsettling. Must justice always balance crime with punishment?
A Two Sons Diptych challenges a classic concept of justice. The shift elevates principles of empathy and reform above the rule of retribution and punishment. The father embodies the justice system in each story while the son plays out the effect of each system. Rich imagery, driving passions and dynamic rhythm bring the reader to shocking conclusions. A Two Sons Diptych will stimulate deep and disconcerting deliberation long after the reader finishes.
Part I: Anatoly Petrovich, is set in Post-Stalinist USSR. Anatoly's wife Anya's extra-marital affair has inadvertently caused Anatoly's arrest and ten year imprisonment. Their son Tolya as a child secretly witnessed his mother's unfaithful act, and he blames her for destroying their family. "Anastasia answered the door of the attic apartment wearing an old ragged robe, her hair falling down on one side." The story opens with a visit from Anya's brother Mikhail. She recounts the past 13 years of her life in explanation to Mikhail finishing with, "Anatoly is dead. I have killed him." Through Mikhail, Anatoly prepares a way for the family to join him across the border. Meanwhile not knowing that Anatoly wants Anya to come also, Tolya struggles with a decision. "A just, righteous sentence. She deserves it. ...She'd be cold and hungry. Could I leave her alone? Papa wants me. Mama loathes me. She needs me. ...I can't go." In the end Tolya fearlessly "squared up his shoulders toward the guard whose machine gun aimed straight at his heart." Tolya dies in peace knowing his mother and his sisters are safe with his father.
Part II: Caesar Emeritus is set in a fictional, isolated medieval city-state. "Caesar Emeritus was a reasonable man, his plans and precautions immaculate. Peace and good order ruled in the city under his wise and benevolent hand." The reader soon learns the contrary. Caesar has two sons Ethan and Jason. Ethan is imprisoned for rape and murder. Caesar searches for a solution to save his crown prince. He institutes the Law of Imperial Substitution. "Though Jason is just and gentle and kind... I give Jason to hang for the crime." Jason is tied to a pole and drenched with lamb's blood. "Baptism completed, guardsmen and keeper retreated... Out of the pit slunk dark wolf-like creatures... snarling and snapping the hunters closed in on their innocent prey." The dogs attack and devour poor Jason. Jason's execution in Ethan's stead is clearly a crucifixion scene, yet there is no resurrection here. Ethan is not saved by his brother's execution. Caesar Emeritus is revealed to be a monstrous tyrant. His name is appropriate, and he needs to be retired. The final scene reveals that Ethan has morally worsened since his brother's offering. At seeing a defenseless creature's torture, he "threw back his head howling in laughter."