An unrelentingly recondite tale about a young Yeshiva scholar who comes to grief by delving too deeply into the stories of a Hasidic mystic.
Joel Jakob lives in the Hasidic community of Monsey, a small town in upstate New York. A renowned young scholar, Joel is the grandson of a rabbi and the son of a schoolmaster. His sister Ada is a fashion designer of sorts who retrofits Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren creations according to Hasidic dress codes. At his father’s yeshiva, Joel follows the prescribed course of studies with great success, but he also develops an interest in the writings of Nachman of Bratslav, an 18th-century Ukrainian Hasid famous for his unfinished Tales of the Seventh Beggar. A Kabbalist as well as storyteller, Nachman dabbled in black magic, hinted that he was the Messiah, and is, as a result, regarded with great suspicion by modern Hasidim. But even today there’s a secret cult of Nachman devotees, and Joel finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into their ranks as he studies Nachman’s work. Sure enough, things begin to get very strange in short order. Joel suffers odd fainting spells and hallucinations, especially after he travels to Ukraine in order to pray at Nachman’s grave on Yom Kippur. There, he encounters a ghostly woman, a Lilith, who seduces him in his sleep and pursues him afterward like a Harpy. Back home, he becomes embroiled in Hasidic controversy and is attacked by members of a rival gang. Eventually, he comes to a bad end, kind of.
A fascinating and scary tale that collapses under the weight of its own esoterica. Abraham (The Romance Reader, 1995, etc.) rambles maddeningly, and her account may be incomprehensible to any not well-versed in the arcana of Hasidic folklore and theology.