Originally, I’d intended to call the book After the Fall. However, that is the title of a play by Arthur Miller and more than one other novel. My publisher advised me to go for a unique title. But why Escape to Redemption?
The “escape” part is straightforward. After committing a crime, Josie flees to Poland. She’s frightened the police will find out that she is responsible—remember, there’s a witness who saw her outside Curtis Rook’s house—and she’s desperate to get as far away as possible. She chooses Poland on the spur of the moment because her former boyfriend, who has supported her in the past, is living and working in Warsaw. (I’m half Polish and have relatives there, so I had a vivid picture in my mind of the city and the challenges Josie would encounter.)
What about “redemption”? Nowadays, if you say the word to someone, they may well think of the film, The Shawshank Redemption, about a man sent to prison for the murder of his wife. For many people, the word redemption has strong religious connotations. One dictionary defines redeem as to save from damnation or from the consequences of sin. (The Oxford Paperback Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1994).
Unlike some of the people who go to the church where Snaz’s aunt worships, I have never believed in a literal hell. For me, hell is a state which we make for ourselves on earth, rather than a place where any of us will end up after we die. Sin does have consequences though—and chief of those is guilt. Josie and Snaz may or may not be able to evade the police and avoid going to jail for their crime, but they can’t get away from the guilt they come to feel. They certainly do not feel at peace within themselves.
I understand redemption as the process of recovering our peace. We are saved not from the devil or a god intent on vengeance, but from our own feelings of guilt, fear, unworthiness and what I will call disconnect from our authentic self.
The situation which Josie and Snaz find themselves in is extreme, but in a way, their story is our story. It is the story of being in exile (After the Fall again), of losing touch with our innocence, and the long and often painful process through which we begin to rediscover it and reclaim it as our inheritance.
For me, to “sin” means to miss the mark or to make a mistake. In Josie’s and Snaz’s case, their mistakes lead to someone’s death. The crime though was only a symptom of their “original sin,” which was to get caught up in what another character, Kogut, might call the dream of form. In other words, they forgot who they were beneath their backstories and their masks, and believed they were justified in doing what they did. It’s a mistake we have all made and which we continue to make every time we act or even think in an unloving, uncompassionate way.
Most of us, most of the time, are not conscious of feeling guilty. Even so, if we experience any unease, or any lack of inner peace, I’d venture that there is at least some guilt buried within us. I’d go so far as to say this is part of the human condition.
How do we gain redemption? Is it something we have to earn? Or might it be that peace—I don’t mean superficial peace which is here one minute and gone the next, but that deep inner peace which passes understanding—can be ours whenever we allow ourselves to accept it? For Kogut, it is enough that we repent. He no longer sees outward punishment as necessary to atone for a crime. Speaking from his experience, he says to Josie: ‘You can change – I did – and you do not need to punish yourself. I made my business legitimate and used my money to help others, to help the people I’d wronged. I became their benefactor, their secret benefactor. Surely that is more useful than jail? And the same can be true for you. If you live the best way you can from this day onwards, that is how to make up for the past.’
The idea of escaping a long stretch in prison is seductive to Josie, but another part of her can’t accept what Kogut is saying. How can there be forgiveness without her paying a penalty for what she has done? How can it be so simple?
The clue may be in what Kogut tells her that night in the hotel room. He compares what she’s going through to the vivid nightmares she has in her sleep:
‘…Imagine in your nightmare you kill someone. How do you feel when you wake up, and you find yourself in your bed and you realise that you didn’t harm them at all?… You don’t feel guilty, do you? You don’t punish yourself for things you dreamed?’
‘I don’t punish myself. Of course not.’
‘If the awful thing you thought you did never happened, there is no need for guilt… If it was not real, but only an illusion made up by your sleeping mind.’
‘What are you telling me?’
‘Remember the moment when Curtis Rook’s son ran at you with the knife and you shot him. You thought you had killed him.’
The image would never leave her. This person, this boy, lying in front of her. His shirt turning red. More and more blood.
‘It is not real.’ Kogut looked around him. ‘None of this is real.’
Josie doesn’t understand what Kogut means, but she does know what she wants above all else: peace and forgiveness. And, for the sake of these, she’s ready to give up all the other things that she used to hold so dear.
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