Auspicious debuts for Hoffman, a short-story writer with, here, a first novel, and Abbeville, an art-book publisher making an initial entry into fiction. It's the first in a projected cycle about the inhabitants of Krimsk, a Jewish village on the Polish-Russian border, and their dispersal through the world in the 20th century. The action begins in 1903 on Tisha B'Av, the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Counterpointing the somberness of the observances is a series of interlinking plot elements often descending even to bedroom farce (naked people hiding under bedspreads). Krimsk is one of those miserable little villages immortalized by Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Babel, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, home to pious Jews like the legendary Krimsker Rebbe, Yaakov Moshe Finebaum, and his Hasidic followers. The rebbe has not emerged from his study for five years, and has spoken to no one. This Tisha B'Av, however, he walks into his shul to lead the service as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world. The community he reenters is rife with undercurrents that have been created in no small part by his absence: His wife has taken it upon herself to set up a match for their daughter, an only child, with the son of the richest man in Krimsk; Yechiel Katzman, the premier student and teacher at the local yeshiva, is undergoing a crisis of belief; Boruch Levi, the town's junkdealer, is getting secret messages from above on the rear-end of his aging horse, Thunder; and the Poles in neighboring Krimichak are gearing up for a pogrom. Hoffman sorts out all in sprightly fashion and high style, resorting to only one credulity-straining coincidence, and that late enough as to seem completely logical. A highly entertaining, affectionate glance back at the Old World, inflected by a refreshing intellectual clarity that is most refreshing.