Witty, intelligent, but sometimes tedious novel of the faith and the flesh, by the author of The Yemenite Girl 0977). Reb Nachman, Hasidic master, storyteller, composer, and great-grandson of the founder of Hasidim, hears God whisper to him one day that he is ""within the Messianic line."" These words ring portentous when shortly thereafter Nachman is tempted by--and succumbs to--a beautiful stranger, Lizabeta, a fall that plunges him into spiritual trauma and for which he is punished by losing his ability to read. Things get worse, however, when Lizabeta is reported drowned, and Lizabeta's father holds Nachman responsible. He flees to Venice, where--miracle of miracles--he meets Beethoven (the year is 1800). They argue out the spiritual-versus-sacred question in music and whether Napoleon, currently on the march, will be good for Jews. Nachman then returns home, but his soul--still unsettled--makes him light out once more for Turkey, where he meets a sultan. On the last leg of his journey, he travels bedouin caravanstyle through the desert, comparing himself to biblical heroes, while realizing more deeply his own mortality. The action is leavened by Leviant's poking irony and affection for Nachman--a combination of the cerebral, haunted Jews of Saul Bellow and the lovable schlemiels of Philip Roth and Woody Allen. Leviant is a talented satirist and straight-man to the cosmic wit of Jewish life--and creates in Nachman a memorable mortal saint. In all, a novel that breathes historical detail and life into a timeless spiritual travail.