The Genizah at the House of Shepher: A Novel

The Genizah at the House of Shepher: A Novel

5.0 1
by Tamar Yellin
     
 

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Shulamit, a biblical scholar from England, returns to her grandparents' home in Jerusalem for a visit, after an absence of many years. Almost immediately she becomes embroiled in a family feud over possession of the so-called Shepher Codex, a mysterious and valuable manuscript which has been discovered in the attic. In tracing the origins of the Codex she uncovers the… See more details below

Overview

Shulamit, a biblical scholar from England, returns to her grandparents' home in Jerusalem for a visit, after an absence of many years. Almost immediately she becomes embroiled in a family feud over possession of the so-called Shepher Codex, a mysterious and valuable manuscript which has been discovered in the attic. In tracing the origins of the Codex she uncovers the history of the Shepher family itself: of her great-grandfather, who traveled to Babylon in search of the ten lost tribes; of her grandfather, a dreamer whose Zionist ideals brought him into conflict with his religion; of her parents, and their tormented love affair; and of her own orphaned and unhappy past. At the same time, she struggles to find answers to pressing questions: what is the significance of the Codex and where does it come from? Who is the stranger, Gideon, who is desperate to enlist her help? Above all, whom does the Codex belong to and what part must Shula play in its destiny?

Set against the backdrop of a changing Jerusalem over a hundred and thirty years, The Genizah at the House of Shepher is a large-canvas novel of exile and belonging, displacement, and the quest for both love and a true promised land.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The history of the family Shepher is a "record of theft, domestic discord, mutual blame-laying and bad luck." Despite that-or perhaps because of it-this British author's debut novel is warm and engrossing, rich with historical detail and unmet yearning. The discovery of a mysterious, handwritten volume of the Bible, apparently the property of biblical scholar Shulamit Shepher's great-grandfather, brings Shulamit from her home in England back to her family's small bungalow in Jerusalem. There, in an attempt to unravel the book's origins, she recounts her family's troubled history, beginning with her great-grandfather Shalom, who disappeared for two years and returned addlebrained and clutching this strange book, known thereafter only as the Codex. Shulamit has inherited her great-grandfather's scholarly interests, but not his traditional Jewish practice. Still, she welcomes the attentions of a religious zealot named Gideon Ben Gibreel-who seeks the Codex for reasons he won't reveal-even as she tries to decide whether the book is the key to reviving her academic career. More than anything, this wide-ranging novel is a meditation on the power of the Holy City, able to restore or shake the faith of whoever enters. As Shulamit notes, "Of all the cities of the world Jerusalem has one of the shabbiest gates of arrival, and coming or going one is greeted by graves." (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In Yellin's debut, Shulamit, a British biblical scholar and daughter of a third-generation Jerusalemite, returns to Jerusalem to seek out her roots. A codex has been found in her grandparents' attic, a veritable genizah of documents from many generations of the family. Shulamit's investigation of the manuscripts illuminates the lives of her great-grandfather, who traveled to Babylon in search of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Her grandfather, meanwhile, was a follower of the Zionist principles inherent in what is now called political Zionism. The mystery of the codex is heightened when a stranger claims to be a descendant of the tribe of Dan, one of the ten lost tribes. Filled with myth, mystery, and history, this novel gives the flavor of Jerusalem neighborhoods through the modern era. Recommended. -Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A warmly portrayed, densely researched fictional history of a scattered Jewish clan migrated to Jerusalem. In alternating chapters, English-born biblical scholar and first-novelist Yellin brings the various threads of the Sepher family together through the story of the so-called Sepher Codex-a priceless 13th-century copy of the Five Books of Moses-supposedly smuggled into the Holy Land by great-grandfather Shalom and hidden in the family home's "genizah," or attic, for decades. In the present, Shulamit Sepher, a 40-year-old unmarried English lecturer in biblical studies, has returned to Jerusalem to say goodbye to her family home at Kiriat Shoshan, run by aged Uncle Saul, before the house is torn down in the name of progress. She has spent many memorable summers in that house ("a visiting child, pale and alien in [her] English skin"), accompanied by her brother Reuben, now an echt Englishman who, unlike her, does look back. Uncle Saul, however, assumes Shulamit has come for the Codex, and soon she learns how precious it is-when she's followed by a persistent, religious, and not unattractive fanatic who claims he's from the tribe of Dan and commissioned with the task of returning the Codex to its rightful owner. Meanwhile, great-grandfather Shalom's ancient history unravels: a corrector of scrolls by profession, he first leaves his home (and wife) in Vilna for Jerusalem in 1861, starts a new family, then eventually sets off for Babylon on a long search for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. His story, with the history of the Codex, makes for a fascinating, labyrinthine journey, joined to the modern-day suspense surrounding the treasure's mysterious whereabouts. In the end, it all encapsulatesin one family the history of the Jews from Moses' reception of the Torah on Mt. Sinai on through the Diaspora, culminating in the forging of the Zionist state-all via the pious adherence to the holy books. Cohesively combines the epic and personal sense of sorrow and nostalgia rooted in home.
From the Publisher
"Warm and engrossing, rich with historical detail and unmet yearning... More than anything, this wide-ranging novel is a meditation on the power of the Holy City, able to restore or shake the faith of whoever enters." - Publishers' Weekly

"Filled with myth, mystery, and history... this novel gives the flavor of Jerusalem neighborhoods through the modern era. Recommended." - Library Journal

"Assured, professional and profound... She's got a kind of Vermeer pitch to her work, just a quiet quality. This novel is beautifully crafted and combines all sorts of mythic and mundane themes and ideas in a very assured way." - Jewish Chronicle

"[A] writer of rare distinction." -The Guardian

"In Shulamit, debut author Tamar Yellin gives us a Jewish heroine for our time... Shepher is the Hebrew word for beauty. This stunning book has its proper name." - Bookpage

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781592640850
Publisher:
Toby Press LLC, The
Publication date:
04/01/2005
Pages:
500
Sales rank:
1,265,954
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x (h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

TAMAR YELLIN received the Pusey and Ellerton Prize for Biblical Hebrew from Oxford University and has worked as a teacher and lecturer in Judaism. She lives in Yorkshire, England.

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