The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon

( 4 )

Overview

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...
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The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon

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Overview

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.
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Editorial Reviews

Richard Bernstein
. . .a moody, tightly constructed historical thriller that is both entertaining and instructive. . . .both a good mystery story and an effective evocation of a faraway time and place. . . .little riffs of mysticism and Jewish lore. . .give [this] book its special and endearing character.
The New York Times
Francis King
Remarkable erudition and compelling imagination, an American Umberto Eco. -- Spectator
Independent on Sunday
An international bestseller...an atmospheric introduction to the hermetic Jewish tradition of kabbalah mysticism.
Library Journal
Recently, Jewish mysticism has become a popular draw, and this first novel, a bestseller in Portugal where it was first published and where American author Zimler lives, is worthy reading even for those in a non-philosophical frame of mind. From the moment Berekiah Zarco, a Jewish resident of Lisbon during the early 1500s, discovers the murder of his religious mentor (with a nude female corpse beside the holy man), the story moves quickly. Trailing suspects, Zarco and his cronies navigate the blood-soaked streets of Lisbon during a Christian 'purge' of Jewish faithful. Along the way, the reader learns about the age's homeopathic cures and observes a traditional Jewish exorcism. Those who understand and appreciate the history of Kabbalah can revel in the mysticism; the uninitiated will gain perspective while enjoying a literary and historical treat. -- Margee Smith, Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, Midland, MI
Library Journal
Recently, Jewish mysticism has become a popular draw, and this first novel, a bestseller in Portugal where it was first published and where American author Zimler lives, is worthy reading even for those in a non-philosophical frame of mind. From the moment Berekiah Zarco, a Jewish resident of Lisbon during the early 1500s, discovers the murder of his religious mentor with a nude female corpse beside the holy man, the story moves quickly. Trailing suspects, Zarco and his cronies navigate the blood-soaked streets of Lisbon during a Christian 'purge' of Jewish faithful. Along the way, the reader learns about the age's homeopathic cures and observes a traditional Jewish exorcism. Those who understand and appreciate the history of Kabbalah can revel in the mysticism; the uninitiated will gain perspective while enjoying a literary and historical treat. -- Margee Smith, Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, Midland, MI
Richard Bernstein
. . .a moody, tightly constructed historical thriller that is both entertaining and instructive. . . .both a good mystery story and an effective evocation of a faraway time and place. . . .little riffs of mysticism and Jewish lore. . .give [this] book its special and endearing character. -- The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
Despite the recent embrace of Kabbalah as the contemporary celebrity spiritual plaything, it's unlikely that the Hollywood pack will spend many hours studying the intricacies of this willfully arcane first novel by an American writer who lives and teaches in Portugal. First published there (to wide acclaim) in Zimler's own Portuguese translation, it's a murder mystery set in Lisbon in the early 16th century: a time of wholesale persecution and executions of Jews (who refused to convert into 'New Christians'), and also the establishment of a religious 'underground' devoted to the preservation of endangered orthodox rituals.

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585670222
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 318
  • Sales rank: 430,638
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.05 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2010

    The last Kabbalist of Lisbon

    One of the best books I've ever read. All the element of the the perfect entertainment - suspense & history. Well written plot, characters are alive and real. Very impressed with the authenticated description of the 15th century Portugal. Recommend to everyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2001

    PANNING FOR GELT

    Fascinating and intriguing insight into Jewish culture in 15th/16th century Portugal. The harrowing descriptions of the pogroms and the overall historical detail were compelling and make this a book well worth reading. However, the mystery-genre aspects of the book are a bit overdone, and I found myself regrettably shlogging through many of the concluding chapters. The final section, however, was curious and thoughtful. Therefore, despite the plot weaknesses and other problems, there is a lot of literary gold and generally great stuff in this book. As a result, I strongly recommend it to interested readers of either Umberto Eco-style fiction or those seeking an interesting and unusal Jewish-read. Give it a try and stick with it...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2000

    A little disappointing

    The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon starts off pretty good with very detailed discriptions of 15th century Portugal. The author's words and descriptions are beautifully written. The disappointment begins when the murder mystery takes up the rest of the book. Not what I was expecting. 'The Last Jew' is a great substitute and much better book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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