JUDAH THE PIOUS by Francine Prose


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An 89 year-old spellbinding tutelar, Rabbi Eliezar Rimanov, temporary usurper of the throne of Poland, spins out a fabulous, dialectic parable for the young king at his feet. He intends to convince him of ""the fallacies in a system which does not allow for the unseen and the improbable."" The tale begins with a bizarre miracle predicted (how expertly will be revealed later on) by that saintly seer, Judah the Pious, and a barren middle-aged couple have a child: The remainder of the story concerns their offspring, Judah ben Simon, and his life search for a clean blueprint of the universe, unmarred by ""miraculous"" aberrations. Judah leaves his beautiful, orange-haired, six-fingered wife, Rachel Anna, and heeds the pull of science. In a tower of withered leaves and men, he meets Silentius, who finally admits to being lost in academic categories. Crestfallen, Judah returns to Rachel and what surely must be cuckoldry; in his absence Rachel Anna has conceived, she insists, via a dream. Judah takes his next journey as a mountebank, guided by an ancient practitioner of healing and humbug. In his wanderings are haunted women and chimerical castles, familiar faces and omens, like the recurring razor-toothed wildcat. Finally the mischievous triad of Silentius/mountebank/Judah the Pious solves many little mysteries and posits the ultimate Improbable. The author in her first book, has demonstrated a remarkable precision in a difficult genre. Throughout the miraculous appearances, burlesqued assemblages or patter of individual soliloquies or dialogue -- persons and events become merely points on a line of human/divine possibility, as real/unreal as earth and sky or ""a child conceived in a dream."" The Rabbi sums it up: ""These things happened. What can I say?"" And there is a hint, also, in an envoi, that one dream may enclose another. A diverting conjuration.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Atheneum