There are some books you remember reading for a long time, and Joseph Skibell’s A Blessing on the Moon is one of those books. It seems like 15 years ago (it was actually 13) when I first read the story of man who climbs out of his mass grave through the help of his rabbi/bird. Skibell’s take on the Holocaust was like nothing I’d read, mixing folklore and the fantastic with harsh reality. And then I passed the book to my sister Claudia, and she loved the book even more. It seemed like we discussed A Blessing on the Moon on and off for over a year.
There was one book in between (which I admit I didn’t read), but now, after many years, is a fitting follow up. A Curable Romantic has just arrived in stores, and is one of those books that you keep talking about long after it’s over. It start in 1890’s Vienna, where Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn (check spelling) is an optometrist, helping Austrians fake eye exams to get government aid.
He falls for a young woman from afar at the opera; she’s in the company of Sigmund Freud, and Jakob decides to befriend Freud to get to Emma. But Emma is not just a family friend of Freud’s, but a patient. Maybe she’s a hysteric, but maybe she’s possessed by a dybbuk, and not just any dybbuk, but one connected to Jakob’s dark past.
The story careens through the Esperanto movement and into the Warsaw ghetto, like spirits jumping from body to body. The writing is masterful, but the plot is not for the lazy, as Skibell raises as many questions as he answers. Did it matter to me that I had to read chunks of the book twice? No, it made it better. And did I care that the language was peppered with Hebrew lettering and Esperanto dialog? No, it was mesmerizing, as were the juggling balls of philosophy, theology, and politics that careen through the novel.
There’s a Chabon-like chaos to the story, as well as a similar attraction to traditional Jewish imagery, though not so much with the intense male bonding. Now I did have one old coworker and current customer, Tom, who stopped me when I said Chabon. He said, “That’s not going to sell me the book.” Yes, but I play the odds, and I’m more likely to find folks who are attracted to this comparison. Plus, I think it’s a fair one.
And yes, Joseph Skibell is coming to the store, on Monday, October 11th. It’s a JCC preview night, for the Jewish Book and Culture Fair that is going on through November. It’s a great lineup of authors, headlined by the great Myla Goldberg.
Monday, October 11th a shopping night for the JCC, as you can designate a 10% of your purchases to go back to the JCC, instead of your normal Boswell Benefits. And I’m honored to have Jody Hirsh, Judaic Education Director of the JCC and also a big fan of A Curable Romantic, introducing Mr. Skibell.