A book that lives up to its Biblical title; one hundred generations and two thousand years of Jewish history jammed into a...

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THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM

A book that lives up to its Biblical title; one hundred generations and two thousand years of Jewish history jammed into a tale so electric with religion, violence, romance, lyricism, and family saga that at times it almost threatens to give the Good Book itself a run for the money. Halter--an acclaimed French painter, writer, and human-rights activist--undertook a project of dazzling ambition: to trace the history of his family from 70 A.D., when an ancestor named Abraham witnessed the fall of Jerusalem, to 1943 A.D., when another Abraham (this time the author's grandfather) died in the Warsaw Ghetto. Fact and fiction bed down cozily here; although written records document the recent history of his lineage, Halter pulls off a real tour de force by bringing his forebears' early years to life in a mix of canny speculation and finely drawn historical background. Amazingly, it all rings true. This is due in part to Halter's storytelling gifts--the plot prances nimbly from the golden walls of first-century Jerusalem to the Vandal tents of north Africa, from the Black Death in medieval Strasbourg to revolutionary cabals in 20th-century Warsaw, held on course by the twin guideposts of all Jewish life: religion and exile. And while one hundred generations of Halters means a googolplex of characters, somehow all remain distinct. Even the pacing is right: whenever a breather is needed, Halter suspends the fiction to offer real-life reports on his genealogical quest; one memorable passage describes an encounter with the contemporary Talmudic sage, Adin Steinsaltz. A single complaint: the author traces his lineage through patrilineal lines. Although this accords with Jewish tradition, it means that all the major characters are men; a Roots for Jewish women remains to be written. This topped the French best-seller list for more than a year. It deserves a similar success here. A feast from start to finish.

Pub Date: April 1, 1986

ISBN: 1592640397

Page Count: -

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1986