A charged philosophical novel that ranges across centuries to examine where things went wrong (and sometimes right) in history for the Jews, from the heyday of Moorish Iberia to the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
“Our family originated in a mystery and a miracle before almost any of the European nations were created, and we’ve played a significant role in history without feeling arrogant about the secret knowledge...that we bore with us through various ages and lands.” Our narrator relates a millennium’s worth of tales surrounding that “secret knowledge,” namely the means to stay alive forever. Other alchemical talents include potions of various sorts, including one to fend off treason, another concoction that would find favor in the courts of Europe, where some member of the Spinoza family or another, Zelig-like, is always present. (The omnipresence of figures such as “the Cabalist” has a sharp point.) A best-seller in its birthplace of Norway, publisher and literary critic Gleichmann’s novel opens with a dying mother’s plaintive remembrance of a blameless young boy’s death at the hands of the Nazi occupiers of Oslo; it closes with an evocation of that sad young man, raised in the voice of our narrator, who is threatened with the very loss of that voice. He, like all in his lineage, has a gift of “embellishing the ugly and making the fleeting moment eternal.” But can that gift save them? Can they spin the gold of immortality for themselves as well? In a sprawling saga that embraces the likes of the storied kings of Castile and the philosopher Voltaire, Gleichmann has obvious good fun in exploring the implications, as well as the Big Questions, chief among them, “how God could allow such a thing.”
Full of wit and mystery. Memorable and sure to be one of the big novels of the season.