At once historical and tenderly intimate in scope, Savit’s (Anna and the Swallow Man) ambitious novel begins in the Eastern European shtetl of Tupnik in the 19th century, where the arrival of the Messenger of Death sets two Jewish youths on intersecting paths. The boy, Yehuda Leib, is desperate to recover a soul from Death; the girl, Bluma, eight days his junior, seeks to escape Death’s angel after accidentally acquiring its instrument: a seemingly innocuous but powerful spoon. Both travel into the Far Country, a graveyard-adjacent realm inhabited by demons and the Army of the Dead, attracting the attention of powerful, corrupt demon nobles who see them as tools. Savit suffuses folklore and Jewish mysticism into a narrative tangle of chases and bargains, otherworldly horrors—a wheelchair woven of still-growing fingernails is particularly memorable—and delicate, compassionate moments, all studded with Yiddishisms. The duo’s journey across the demonic demesnes and the mortal town of Zubinsk, where an open wedding invitation convenes both devout Hasidim and opportunistic entities, all looking to benefit from a holy presence, presents a bewitching allegorical adventure comprised of small, beautifully composed moments. Ages 12–up. Agent: Catherine Drayton, InkWell Management. (Sept.)
Gr 7 Up—From the moment a girl leaves her cottage to gather strawberries at the far side of the forest, Savit sets a dark fairy tale tone. Readers fast forward to meet Bluma, the teenage granddaughter of the berry collector, and Yehuda Leib, a poor and scrappy village neighbor of Bluma's age. Told from alternating viewpoints, and incorporating language and elements from Jewish folk tradition, Bluma and Yehuda Leib begin separate adventures—eventually crossing paths on the outskirts of their shtetl of Tupik in a cemetery where "the living world wears thin," and both Bluma and Yehuda Leib cross over into the Far Country. Dark messengers, the Master of Whispers, Lilith, and the Sisters of Lileen inhabit this magical realm. Bluma brings with her a magical spoon, dropped by the Dark Messenger when he took her grandmother, which allows her to see events in altered time. Yehuda Leib enters and encounters the Treasure House of Lord Mammon, who eats a tiny man as a snack, and enlists Yehuda Leib's help in a plot for more power. As they unite over chicken soup in an old hut, with a double-edged dagger at hand, Bluma and Yehuda Leib realize that death comes for everyone in its own time, but need not be faced alone. VERDICT An entrancing historical fantasy, thick with elements of magic and folk tales.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX
A Jewish boy and girl journey to the Far Country on the other side of the cemetery seeking to find that which they lost.
The story begins in a shtetl called Tupik, where a boy named Yehuda Leib and a girl named Bluma each have unexpected encounters with Death, setting them both on separate journeys through the cemetery on the edge of the village and into the Far Country, seeking the House of Death to reclaim what they lost. On their way, they pass through the town of Zubinsk, where the holy Rebbe’s granddaughter is about to be married in a highly anticipated wedding that draws not only Hasidim and visitors from all over, but also all manner of demons and spirits seeking an audience with the revered Rebbe. Bluma’s and Yehuda Leib’s winding paths cross until they finally band together to defeat their mutual foe with the help of some unlikely allies they meet along the way. Though their cleverness, grit, and dastardly alliances may get them far in the Far Country, they may not ultimately be enough to defeat Death itself. Lyrical and fantastic, this richly layered yarn is liberally sprinkled with bits of Yiddish and a wry, sparkling humor that balances its darker tendencies with sympathy and warmth.
Steeped in the rich traditions of ghost stories and Jewish folklore, this remarkable feat of storytelling is sure to delight. (Fantasy. 13-adult)