An appealing family drama illuminates the fascinating story of a famous repository of Jewish documents, the Cairo Geniza.

THE LAST WATCHMAN OF OLD CAIRO

An American student with a Jewish mother and Muslim father explores his family’s tangled roots in the history of Cairo's ancient synagogue.

When he receives the bequest of an ancient document fragment after the death of his Egyptian father, Berkeley grad student Joseph al-Raqb embarks on a search to discover its provenance. His journey unfolds, for the most part, in an extended visit to Cairo, where he learns more details of his family’s nearly 1,000 years of continuous service as night watchmen for the city’s Ibn Ezra Synagogue. In a dusty attic space, the synagogue once contained a geniza, a storeroom filled with hundreds of years of discarded documents, from records of mundane commercial transactions and routine legal disputes to sacred texts. It was a treasure trove that shed light on a broad swath of life in Cairo’s once-thriving Jewish community. Blending his fictional creations with real characters—including Rabbi Solomon Schechter, the scholar who persuaded the leaders of the remnant of the Cairo Jewish community and Egyptian authorities to allow him to export a substantial portion of the contents of the geniza to Cambridge University in 1897, where most of it remains to this day, and Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson, the British Presbyterian twins and antiquarians who inspired his effort—Lukas creates a thoroughly credible mystery, centering on the whereabouts of an apocryphal text of the Torah known as the Ezra Scroll, without sacrificing any of the complexity and subtlety of a work of character-centered literary fiction. In Joseph’s voice, Lukas (The Oracle of Stamboul, 2011) also reveals, through quietly moving scenes, the challenges of identity posed by the ambiguity of his protagonist’s own heritage, as the son of a Muslim father and a Jewish mother who never married each other. And in his exploration of some 10 centuries of Cairo’s history, including times when the city’s Jews and Muslims lived side by side in relative harmony, Lukas at least hints that another era of peaceful coexistence is not beyond imagining.

An appealing family drama illuminates the fascinating story of a famous repository of Jewish documents, the Cairo Geniza.

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-18116-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

Did you like this book?

ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

Did you like this book?

more