Before he vanished into a Nazi concentration camp, Pap was already known as one of the finest Hungarian writers, a judgment confirmed for contemporary readers by this first English translation of his lively, intense 1937 novel: the story of a boy's crisis of faith.
Even before he was born, Gyuri Azarel was embroiled in conflict as his paternal grandfather Jeremiah—a hoary Old Testament figure if ever there was one—demanded the child from his parents as payment for their failure to keep the true faith. No matter that Gyuri's father is a respected rabbi; the boy goes to live in Papa Jeremiah's tent and experiences the ultra-Orthodox life, until the visionary old man, fasting in expectation of being transported to Jerusalem, fails to wake up one morning. Returned to his parents, brother, and sister, Gyuri has trouble adapting. He wants unconditional love and attention from his family, but doesn't get it from any of them; he wants friends in school, but doesn't know how to make them; he wants his teacher to answer his questions about God, but as a rabbi's son his doubts are unacceptable. When he brings the questions home, his proper, domineering father hits the proverbial roof. A battle of wills ensues in which the boy is battered physically, then leaves home to go beg in the streets. But when the familiar, rebellious voices in his head are joined by one from the fire in a baker's oven telling him to return to his father's synagogue, he does, for a final feverish confession that brings a resolution—of sorts—to his spiritual distress.
Richly imagined work by a gifted storyteller of great subtlety and substance: Pap clearly deserves a wide audience, however belatedly achieved.