A fictional investigation of Jewish identity that tracks the parallel efforts of two men to live as Jews in an inhospitable world.
This is Avi-Hai’s (Danger: Three Jewish Peoples, 1997, etc.) first novel. His other books were nonfiction analyses of Jewish theological and political affairs. A Canadian-born journalist who immigrated to Israel in 1952 and an Israeli civil servant, his life seems to have revolved around the historically nettlesome question of Jewish identity. The novel itself is really two novellas, each meant to mirror and illuminate the other. Both follow characters named Avraham. Like the author, the first Avraham is a Canadian-born journalist who immigrated to Israel out of solidarity with the Zionist cause. From the very beginning, Avraham finds himself in peril. He has stumbled upon rampant corruption among the ultra-Orthodox rabbi extremists, the very same rabbis who “sanctioned” Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination after he signed the Oslo Accords. These rabbinical ideologues are entangled in an embezzlement scheme, and Avraham has gathered enough evidence to prove it. Under threat of death, he flees to Greece, pays for an ersatz passport and makes his way to Italy. On his way, he is entrusted with a very old manuscript of undetermined provenance in order to determine its value and negotiate its sale. The manuscript turns out to be the story of another Avraham, an Italian writing circa 1600. As the shared names suggest, both narrators experience morally comparable challenges, attempting to maintain their Jewishness in the face of relentless persecution. The Renaissance Avraham runs from the Inquisition. The prose sometimes slides into the melodramatic, but the story remains a philosophically serious engagement with a historically significant theme: the tension between Judaism and a modern world “infected with ideological viruses.”
A thoughtful, provocative novel that artfully examines political obstacles to Jewish spirituality.