Sigal Samuel's debut novel, in the vein of Nicole Krauss's bestselling The History of Love , is an imaginative story that delves into the heart of Jewish mysticism, faith, and family.
"This is not an ordinary tree I am making.Read more...
Sigal Samuel's debut novel, in the vein of Nicole Krauss's bestselling The History of Love, is an imaginative story that delves into the heart of Jewish mysticism, faith, and family.
"This is not an ordinary tree I am making.
"This," he said, "this is the Tree of Knowledge."
In the half-Hasidic, half-hipster Montreal neighborhood of Mile End, eleven-year-old Lev Meyer is discovering that there may be a place for Judaism in his life. As he learns about science in his day school, Lev begins his own extracurricular study of the Bible's Tree of Knowledge with neighbor Mr. Katz, who is building his own Tree out of trash. Meanwhile his sister Samara is secretly studying for her Bat Mitzvah with next-door neighbor and Holocaust survivor, Mr. Glassman. All the while his father, David, a professor of Jewish mysticism, is a non-believer.
When, years later, David has a heart attack, he begins to believe God is speaking to him. While having an affair with one of his students, he delves into the complexities of Kabbalah. Months later Samara, too, grows obsessed with the Kabbalah's Tree of Life--hiding her interest from those who love her most-and is overcome with reaching the Tree's highest heights. The neighbors of Mile End have been there all along, but only one of them can catch her when she falls.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-10-26
- Reviewer: Staff
With a refreshing new voice that has a dash of Anne Tyler and a sprinkling of Sholem Aleichem, Samuel explores the search for enlightenment in her standout debut. She follows one family's obsession with Jewish modern-day mysticism, depicting a slice of life in a devout community and showing how people absorb tragedy and then rebel from or cleave to religion to help them cope with the day-to-day. David Meyer, a professor of Jewish mysticism, renounced religion; a few days later, his wife, an observant Jewish woman, died in a car accident. Their children, Lev and Samara, struggle to grapple with these coincidental events. Young Lev desperately tries to bring joy into his father's life, all the while hoping this or that woman will put the sparkle back into his emotionally absent father. Samara, too, gets caught up in Kabbalah and the biblical Tree of Life. Readers are then shown life through David's eyes as the academic subject he taught for years suddenly becomes a life obsession, with dire consequences. With the help of the everpresent anchors in the Meyers' livesnext door neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Glassman, Holocaust survivors with their own private agonies; and Alex Caufin, Lev's best friend, enamored of Samarathe author shows with heart and insight that what we seek is often right in front of us. (Oct.)