Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Satan in Goray

Author: Isaac Bashevis Singer

First line: In the year 1648, the wicked Ukrainian hetman, Bogdan Chmelnicki, and his followers besieged the city of Zamosc but could not take it, because it was strongly fortified; the rebelling haidamak peasants moved on to spread havoc in Tomaszow, Bilgoraj, Krasnik, Trubin, Frampol--and in Goray, too, the town that lay in the midst of the hills at the end of the world.

Why you should read this book: Inspired by the real-life events surrounding the false messiah, Sabbatai Zevi, the Nobel-prize winning Singer recreates the sights, sounds, scents, and flavors of the seventeenth-century Jewish shtetl and the religious mania of a people whose unending woes leave them starved for the mystical promises of a new messianic cult. From the holy desires of the cabalists, the town slowly descends into insanity, eventually violating commandments openly in anticipation of their imminent ascent to the holy land, where all laws will be revoked and all crimes forgiven once the Almighty reunites with the holy spirit to usher in the new age. It is a story of a lost world, where evil dances as a palpable presence, held back only by piety, and given free rein once the laws are discarded.

Why you should not read this book: You're looking for the light-hearted, muddled philosophy of a pious and introspective milkman and his dealings with his independent-minded daughters. This is not an optimistic piece of literature, but a cautious warning.

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