Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 13, 2015)
Sigal Samuel’s debut novel, in the vein of Nicole Krauss’s bestselling The History of Love, is an imaginative story that delves into the heart of Jewish mysticism, faith, and family.
“This is not an ordinary tree I am making.
“This,” he said, “this is the Tree of Knowledge.”
In the half-Hasidic, half-hipster Montreal neighborhood of Mile End, eleven-year-old Lev Meyer is discovering that there may be a place for Judaism in his life. As he learns about science in his day school, Lev begins his own extracurricular study ofthe Bible’s Tree of Knowledge with neighbor Mr. Katz, who is building his own Tree out of trash. Meanwhile his sister Samara is secretly studying for her Bat Mitzvah with next-door neighbor and Holocaust survivor, Mr. Glassman. All the while his father, David, a professor of Jewish mysticism, is a non-believer.
When, years later, David has a heart attack, he begins to believe God is speaking to him. While having an affair with one of his students, he delves into the complexities of Kabbalah. Months later Samara, too, grows obsessed with the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life—hiding her interest from those who love her most–and is overcome with reachingthe Tree’s highest heights. The neighbors of Mile End have been there all along, but only one of them can catch her when she falls.
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The Myer family lives in Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood. The neighborhood is mostly made up of Hasidic Jews and a few random Hipsters. Father, David is a professor of Jewish Mysticism, but no longer believes since the passing of his wife. Samara, is thirteen and secretly planning her bat mitvah. Lev idolizes his older sister and has found a task by helping his neighbor Mr. Katz. Mr. Katz is attempting to build the Tree of Life out of toilet paper rolls, dental floss and green painted leaves.
There are a lot of things going on in this book concerning each family member as they go through cycles of hope, fear and loss. The writing is fantastically layered where details come out one by one. The characters are what truly make this story wonderful. Each character is searching for something, something to believe in, and something to hold on to. Samara and Lev have a great relationship and l love that when left to their own devices for dinner they make mac and cheese with M&M’s and pizza with gummy bears. As the Tree of Life infiltrates each of their lives, David, Sam and Lev have a chance at falling deeper. This story is wonderfully complex, one that you will have to sit with and think about. It combines science and religion, fantasy, heartbreak, family, and most of all, hope.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Sigal Samuel is a writer and editor for The Jewish Daily Forward. She has published fiction and journalism in The Daily Beast, TheRumpus, BuzzFeed, Tablet, The Walrus, Event, Descant, Grain, Prairie Fire, Room, and This Magazine, among others. She has been a featured writer atthe Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival and a winner of Room’s writing contest. Her plays have been produced in Montreal, Vancouver and New York City, winning Solo Collective Theater’s Emerging Playwrights’ Competition and The Cultch’s Young Playwrights’ Competition. While pursuing her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, Sigal won the Laura Fowler Award for outstanding women in the fine arts. She received the Lionel Shapiro Award and the Chester Macnaghten Prize for creative writing from McGill University. Originally from Montreal, she now lives and writes in Brooklyn.
Visit Sigal at her website and connect with her on Twitter.