Most everything promised by Reich's debut novel, Mara (1978), is delivered in this savagely funny, extraordinarily learned, brilliantly controlled comedy of religious ecstasy. Shmuel Himmelhoch's body is found in the Israeli desert, having disappeared a year before. Shmuel was a Bratslaver Hasid, follower of the legendary Rabbi Nahman--but Shmuel, before returning to Judiasm, was also a world-renowned hippie. And most of the other Hasidim in the book are likewise baal tshuvim--returnees from far wilder, more secular lives. It's what gives the book its special hilarity: the women especially--Sofa Katz of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, nÃ‰e Pam Buck of Macon, Georgia; and Bruriah Lurie, born Barbara Horowitz of Brooklyn. Never does Reich reach for the cheap crosscultural laugh--all these people are superdevout--but the women in particular suffer from a sexism that Reich can set up in scenes of memorable humor. The book's progress is laced with flashbacks (Shmuel's great nemesis in life was to try--never succeeding--to visit Uman, where Rabbi Nahman is buffed) but moves primarily along the track of the transport and burial of Shmuel's body--which becomes a mini-Biblical epic all its own (including a climb of Mount Sinai), with touches of mystery and emblem beyond comedy. Possibly a classic.