Brazilian writer Scliar begins this shambling novel with an appealing premise: a Brazilian businessman on the brink of economic ruin being drawn into a memoir that a mysterious genealogist gives to him, a narrative of the businessman's ancestors that takes him up to the present and shades in the ever-uncertain state of his fellow Jews in Brazil, their stunning unlikelihood. Scliar, however, given this wide net, throws back nothing he catches in it; and the businessman Rafael Mendes' ancestry is traced back as far as Jonah (in which the Old Testament is fairly strictly paraphrased for a few pages) and then Maimonides and then the various subterfuges of the New Christians (Jewish converts during the Inquisition) and then Jewish pioneers in the Amazon, etc. It reads like James Michener with stylistic panache--but the effect is just as hectoring and numbing. Scliar, you may feel, ought to have kept the whole book contemporary: today's Rafael Mendes is an attractively befuddled character involved in sexual/familial complications with his partner. The elders of history, it seems, are supposed to give him credible background--one that isn't needed at such didactic breadth.