The Illuminated Soul

The Illuminated Soul

by Aryeh Lev Stollman


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Eva Laquedem, a scientist who has fled Prague at the outbreak of World War II, settled briefly in Japan, and then traveled rootlessly like the legendary Wandering Jew, arrives, by accident, in Windsor, Canada, at the home of a devout widow and her two sons. Within her purse she carries the renowned Augsburg Miscellany, a magnificent fifteenth-century illuminated Hebrew manuscript, for which she has risked her life. Eva's physical beauty, the dazzling tales she tells, and, above all, the magnificent Augsburg Miscellany powerfully affect Adele and her sons, giving them a new experience of the world and its possibilities.

Aryeh Lev Stollman's first book, The Far Euphrates, was hailed as "radiant" and "remarkable" by The New York Times Book Review; New York Newsday described it as "kin to the fiction of the late, great Bernard Malamud"; and The Forward declared that the novel "lifts the level of recent American-Jewish writing to a new plane." Now, in his long-awaited second novel, he illuminates the themes he touched on in The Far Euphrates and once again magically expands our sense of the everyday and the limits of our imaginations.

Author Biography: Aryeh Lev Stollman is a neuroradiologist whose first novel, The Far Euphrates, is an American Library Association Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Review Recommended Book of the Year, and the winner of a Wilbur Award and a Lambda Award.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573229753
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: 02/18/2003
Edition description: REPRINT
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Aryeh Lev Stollman is a neuroradiologist whose first novel, The Far Euphrates, is an American Library Association Notable Book, a Los Angeles Times Book Review Recommended Book of the Year, and the winner of a Wilbur Award and a Lambda Award.

Read an Excerpt


Lately, an old friend has reappeared, someone I loved long ago. She arrives as she did more than fifty years before, out of nowhere and out of everywhere.

I saw her in Manhattan when I spoke at the Academy of Medicine. Next she appeared at a presentation I made in Montreal. She has since come to Amsterdam and Rome, to Jerusalem and Berlin.

She arrives after everyone is seated, after I come to the podium and begin my talk. She glides easily through the dense crowds and takes a place in the back rows. Though she sits at a distance I see her distinctly. Recently, in Kyoto, where long ago I spent a research year, the auditorium was particularly jammed. She remained standing, smiling near an exit.

She is still the astonishing figure she was more than fifty years ago, and moves with the same youthful elegance. Her hair is still red and luxurious, at times done up in a French twist, at others in a chignon. Indoors, in the dimmest halls and auditoriums, there is a shimmer to her silken clothes, clothes that no one wore back then in my hometown, clothes one saw only in magazines or movies, worn by women waving from ocean liners or posing in exotic resorts.

When I see her I stumble for a moment in my words. She is about to ask me a question that I will not be able to answer or endure.

"Water?" someone on the dais asks me. "Are you all right, Doctor?"

I turn aside and whisper, "Yes, yes, I am all right."

I fuss with my notes. When I look up, she is gone. I do not care that she is a phantom. A conjuring trick from an aging brain. I am grateful to see her again. I am glad to imagine that after all this time she has come back to me.

Reading Group Guide


  1. Discuss the importance of Eva's inventing the veil for Asa so that he can protect his eyes and see. What role does Eva play in helping each family member to see the world in new ways?

  2. Discuss the transformative effect of Eva's stay on Joseph's character. Do you feel she is a good influence on him? What is her affect on the other members of the household?

  3. Eva is a well-educated and experienced world traveler by the time she reaches Windsor. Yet, some of her actions would suggest a surprising naïveté. What role does this naïveté play in her becoming stranded in Canada? In her father's death? In her guarding of The Augsburg Miscellany? Is Eva's naïveté genuine, or is it a way to evade ultimate responsibility for her actions?

  4. Insisting on the importance of perfection in the reading of the Torah, Joseph's mother remarks, "Once you start tampering with the truth, all is lost. Wars have, God help us, been fought over the interpretation of single words. We all make mistakes, boys, it's human nature, but then we are obligated to correct them. That's what God expects of us." What do you make of Joseph's taking The Augsburg Miscellany when Eva's back is turned? What motivates him to take it? How does his own interpretation of the act change over the years? Does he feel he has made a mistake and, if so, how does he envision correcting it?

  5. Eva often uses her fantastic stories to evade the Ivris' questions about her past. When pressed, she is not above lying. (For example, she lies to Joseph about her husband.) What does Joseph make of Eva's lies? How is he complicit in the stories she makes up about herself?

  6. What role does guilt play in Joseph's lifelong love for Eva?

  7. In what way (or ways) is Asa wiser than Joseph?

  8. Is Joseph's erudition his own way of compensating for his lack of beauty? How does this relate to his feeling that he would avoid the troubles visited upon the beautiful?

  9. Asa's hardship is his blindness. Eva's greatest burden (but also her greatest joy) is the Augsburg Miscellany. What is Joseph's ultimate hardship?

  10. Joseph creates a character in his successful book and names her Soul. The world seems to be as captivated by her as he is by Eva. Why is this? What does the character of Soul represent to Joseph? To his readers?

  11. After achieving early success in his neuroanatomical studies, Joseph goes on to achieve even greater success, late in life, with the publication of The Illuminated Soul. How are Joseph's interests in the brain and the soul related? How are they contradictory? What does Joseph make of the connection between his scientific and imaginative endeavors?

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The Illuminated Soul 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the philosophical references the most in this book. Eva was a bit unreal but very interesting. An excellent read..........
labfs39 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Written in a poetic and dreamy style, I enjoyed the language and especially the characters of The Illuminated Soul. The story centers around a rare fifteenth century manuscript and a lovely, mysterious woman who enters the lives of two boys and their mother one summer. Joseph, the elder of the two boys, is obsessed with perfect readings of Torah, while the younger is going blind and depends on a strip of silk to filter the sun's light. A neuroradiologist, Stollman interweaves just a touch of science into a beautiful and mystic look at relationships and the power of the desire for beauty.
bobbieharv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An attempt to combine science and love and Jewish mysticism that didn't quite work. It was a slight novel, and I never warmed to the characters.
vpfluke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Who is the Illuminated soul? The initial answer is that it is Eva Laquedem, who appears at the home of Adele Ivri and her two sons in Windsor, Ontario. She is a refugee from Nazi Europe, carrying with her a famous illuminated manuscript, the Augsburg Miscellany. Eva takes the boys and Adele into the rarefied world of ancient and exquisite beauty, but also the need to guarantee the progeny of beautiful objects. But Eva herself presents a command performance by her sheer entry into a room, and captures everyone who looks at her into her special world. She does pine the possible loss of her father, for whose knowledge she is on a complex quest, and is the reason for her travels in Canada.Asa, the brother of Joseph, who narrates the novel, may have an illuminated soul. He suffers from a slowly developing blindness. Eva is albe to affirm to affirm his special quality as a human being and he seems to have a character full of simplicity and goodness that one might associate wih a good soul. He is able to draw and very accomplished at it, and his life possesses a worthwhile quality to it.Adele may have become illuminated, as she performs research across the river in Detroit for Eva, because Eva has developed a passport problem. Adele is widowed, bright, devout but closed in. But she is transformed by Eva when she begins to discover her own talents in baking and and then is able to set up her own business.Perhaps even the narrator is illuminated in the relaying of the life of Eva and theose who are transformed by her. We as readers may allow ourselves to be transformed and allow ourselves to produce our illuminated life.