A skeptical Israeli gradually becomes convinced that an obscure ethnic group living on the Indian-Burmese border descends from one of the biblical lost tribes.
Never intending to be a lost-tribe hunter, writer/translator Halkin (Luck and Chutzpah, 1997, etc.) backs into the quest when he signs on to accompany an Israeli rabbi who is searching corners of China and Thailand for evidence of ancient Israel’s scattered descendants. In northeast India, the pair encounter a sizeable group of locals who are quite convinced of their connection to the lost tribe of Menasseh. Halkin is drawn in spite of himself: “Either a Tibeto-Burmese people in a remote corner of southeast Asia had a mysterious connection with ancient Israel, or they were the victims of a mass delusion. Either way, there was a story to be written.” Enlisting a pair of translators from the area, Halkin returns to look for evidence in the form of folk songs, stories, and religious customs predating the wave of missionaries that obliterated most indigenous ritual memory by the early 1900s. Little-known villages, local military history, political parties, and personal intrigues make for a distracting backdrop, and helpful locals with motivations that range from ethnic pride to greed wander on- and offstage with little fanfare. Nonetheless, once readers struggle free from the choking welter of history, political intrigue, and wholly unfamiliar names, they can appreciate the author's humorous, intelligent commentary. Near the end of his visit to the area, Halkin seems to have debunked the Mizo myth of being the lost tribe of Menasseh, until a chance encounter with the area's only ethnographer, a doctor who visits remote villages to practice medicine and collect stories from elders, turns him into a believer.
Genuinely intriguing, and difficult to dismiss.