Friday, September 05, 2008

Richard Zimler

I have now read three books by Richard Zimler: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Hunting Midnight and The Seventh Gate. They follow the fortunes of the Zarco family, who are Sephardic Jews from Portugal. If you want to know what the style is like, try to imagine a Jewish version of Robertson Davies.

In The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, Berekiah Zarco tries to discover who murdered his uncle, whilst there is a particularly vicious pogrom going on. In some ways it reminded me of The Anointed One by Z'ev Ben Shimon Halevi, but Zimler is the more accomplished writer of the two (though Halevi is excellent from an esoteric point of view). Zimler's characters are sympathetic and well-drawn; even those who are in the business of preserving their own skin even at the cost of betraying others are finely depicted so that their motivation can be understood. Zimler's main theme in this book and The Seventh Gate is the idea that a person can sacrifice themselves to change history; this is also the theme of Halevi's The Anointed One.

Hunting Midnight is about a friendship between John Zarco Stewart and Midnight, an African healer and freed slave. It's a beautiful book, though quite heartbreaking. It deals with slavery, the hidden Jews of Portugal, love, loss and betrayal.

The Seventh Gate is about Isaac Zarco, who lives in Berlin in 1933, and the struggle by him and his circle of friends to resist the Nazis. The characters are beautifully drawn. The book shows how the slide into Nazi totalitarianism came about, and how it affected people's lives, like the Jewish population, children who were considered subnormal, people with gigantism, and dwarves - all of whom were considered undesirable by the Nazis. It also explains why people waited until the last possible minute to leave Germany. In the midst of all this, Isaac Zarco is reading the book written by Berekiah Zarco and trying to attain the Seventh Gate of the Divine realm.

1 comment:

Bo said...

These sound great - I love Davies so will have to pick them up. Thanks!