By Yoel Finkelman and Ofir Haim for Jewish Review of Books
A Collection of Long-Lost Manuscripts Sheds Light on Medieval Afghan Jewry
A few weeks before Rosh Hashanah sometime in the 11th century, a distraught, young Jewish Afghan young man named Yair sent a painful letter to his brother-in-law, Abu-al-Hasan Siman Tov. Life had dealt Yair a tough hand, or maybe it was just his own bad choices. Having failed in business in his hometown of Bamiyan, rumors were now spreading that he had “broken promises . . . regarding property” and that he did not truly “observe the Sabbath.” Leaving these problems behind him, he had left his young wife to move some 150 miles to Ghazni and begin anew.
But even there he struggled to make a living. More importantly, he missed his family. “Anyone who marries a woman brings peace to his own mind, as it is for all people, not so that I will be sitting in Ghazni and she in Bamiyan.” But, with business doing so poorly, Yair could barely make ends meet on a day-to-day basis, let alone afford the costs of travel.
Nathan Englander’s New Espionage Thriller, Set In Israel, Spins A Complex Twist Of Stories
BY SANDEE BRAWARSKY for The Jewish Week
An espionage thriller that’s also an allegory, magical realist tale, love story, tragedy and an impassioned cry for peace wrapped in one.
In a dark prison cell somewhere in the Negev, a cell that doesn’t exist in any written record, Prisoner Z spends endless days alone, with his guard. In “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” (Knopf), Nathan Englander artfully spins a complex twist of stories of how this yeshiva-educated boy from Long Island ends up as an Israeli spy, living many lives undercover in Paris and Berlin, and then condemned to this cell.
The novel is intensely engaging in many ways: It is an espionage thriller, and it is also an allegory, a magical realist tale, a love story, a tragedy and an impassioned cry for peace, its many shifts of scene laced with material from Englander’s own life and moments of humor too.