The Last Kabbalist of Lisbonby Francis King, Richard Zimler
The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is a novel that transports the reader into the mystical universe of kabbalah during the Lisbon massacre of April 1506. Just a few years earlier, Jews living in Portugal were dragged to the baptism font and forced to convert to Christianity. Many of these 'New Christians,' in secret and at great risk, persevered in their rituals, and/i>… See more details below
The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is a novel that transports the reader into the mystical universe of kabbalah during the Lisbon massacre of April 1506. Just a few years earlier, Jews living in Portugal were dragged to the baptism font and forced to convert to Christianity. Many of these 'New Christians,' in secret and at great risk, persevered in their rituals, and the hidden, arcane practices of the kabbalists continued as well. One such secret Jew was Berekiah Zarco, a young manuscript illuminator. Inflamed by love and revenge, he searches for the killer of his beloved uncle Abraham, a renowned kabbalist discovered murdered in a hidden synagogue, along with a young girl in deshabille. Risking his life in streets seething with mayhem, Berekiah tracks down answers among Christians, New Christians, Jews, and the fellow kabbalists of his uncle, whose secret language and codes at turns light and obscure the way to the truth he seeks.
Berekiah Zarco, a young manuscript illuminator and fruitseller (whose manuscript is discovered centuries later, by this novel's supposed editor), tells the story of his search for the killer of his beloved Uncle Abraham, a 'kabbalah master' whose naked body was discovered beside that of an (initially) unknown young woman. Evidence that the two had had sex just before their deaths proves open to multiple interpretation, as do other adventures that befall Berekiah as he seeks to apply the interpretive skills taught by the Jewish mystics to the bewildering pattern of collusions and conflicts that his 'investigations' disclose. Zimler's plot wheezes and strains more than a little (there are far too many essentially similar coincidences and hairsbreadth escapes), but Berekiah's hard-won wisdom is credibly linked to his memories of his Uncle's exemplary stories, and effectively concealed in enigmatic proverbial nuggets (e.g., 'The map of a town is in a blind beggar's feet').
The novel exhibits a curious predilection for revoltingly detailed descriptions of tortureand murder, but there's no gainsaying its authoritative recreation of an imperilled culture in a savage time and place, or the force of the prophecy that Berekiah finally infers from the mystery of the death his Uncle doubtless expected, and may have courted. A bit attenuated, but, on balance, one of the more unusual and interesting first novels of recent vintage.
- Arcadia Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.51(w) x 8.27(h) x (d)
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