A young Jewish man comes of age, searches for his identity and crosses the Atlantic at the turn of the last century.
Avrum Vishinsky was a child when his village was burned and all its inhabitants killed during a pogrom in 1898. Only he and his little brother, Hershel, survived. Within a day of this first tragedy, however, they suffer a second, as they are separated, each fearing the other dead. The story follows Avrum as he falls in with a group of rough lumbermen, one of whom takes the young boy under his wing. Avrum grows up and eventually leaves the forests to search for his brother in the Ukrainian city of Lvov. It is here that he has his first encounter since the pogrom with his Jewish heritage, and also learns that Hershel is alive and in America. After more time spent growing up, working hard and traveling with seedy characters, Avrum himself sets sail for America. Almost by chance, he takes a ship for Canada and ends up in Montreal, where he finds work and housing with fellow Jews, though he remains only ambiguously Jewish. Avrum becomes a professional wrestler, but he is also a spiritual and emotional wrestler throughout the book. He suffers deeply from having no sense of belonging or identity. His nightmares and loneliness haunt him, even as he attempts to live morally in the midst of immorality. Holtzman creates a believably troubled protagonist, caught in the web of his own destiny, as defined by a kabbalist seer. Avrum represents the goodness in humanity, struggling with tragedy, evil and temptation. Yet in the end, subtly, justice has its day.
An engaging read that vividly, and often painfully, portrays humanity’s struggle with inhumanity.