Reaching back to the tumultuous 15th century, Jerusalmy chronicles a fictional tale of real-life brigand/poet François Villon, dispatched to find The Brotherhood of Book Hunters.
Jerusalmy’s dense and erudite narrative begins in Paris. Villon has been imprisoned for his writings, but Louis XI and Guillaume Chartier, bishop of Paris, are scheming to break Rome’s hold over France. The pair want Villon to lure Johann Fust, a Gutenberg ally, to Paris to establish a printing concern to make his books more available. The king’s plot later expands. He forces Villon and Colin de Cayeux, another Coquillard bandit, to journey to Jerusalem, “homeland of prophets and psalmists, peasants and fallen angels.” They’re to find the shadowy Brotherhood, an eclectic collection of Jews, revisionist Christians and others intent on preserving the world’s knowledge, and secure books to supply the Paris printing presses. As the hardy pair trek “from Rue St. Jacques to Genoa, from Acre to the monastery in Galilee and to Safed,” characters abound: the fashionable fop and de’ Medici agent Federico Castaldi; archivist Brother Médard, a cranky, combative dwarf; and young Rabbi Gamliel ben Sira, gaon of Safed, who speaks for the Brotherhood’s secret leader. In the library, located deep underground in “Invisible Jerusalem,” Villon learns the Brotherhood’s collection includes the “overwhelming testament dictated by Jesus to the high priest Annas just before his arrest,” a document critical to the Papacy and freethinkers alike. In deft translation, the novel sparkles with fanciful descriptions—“He would throw a judicious quotation at an eminent rival as you throw a knife at a straw target”—and Machiavellian machinations, highlighted by scholarly but accessible ruminations on Aristotle and Plato, religion and humanism, which are symbolically relevant to the forces gathering to bring on Reformation and Enlightenment, “to free the word from those who had been keeping it hostage in their chapels and cellars for centuries.”
Literate. Brilliant. Entertaining.