The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel
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.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (October 13, 2015)
Source: Publisher via TLC Book Tours for an honest review
“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 of the 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 reaching the 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.
The Mystics of Mile End is a rather intriguing book - it is about many things while telling the story of a small, broken family and how they work to put the pieces back together. Lev and his sister Samara are in a difficult spot - each is struggling with their own issues with faith and their place in the world. Their mother, who was tragically killed, was a woman of strong faith and their father is an unbeliever.
The novel is told from each of the family members' perspective in separate sections and then a final section telling more about the neighbor's perspective. Within these sections each tells their version of events. By telling the story in this way, the reader is able to get a much fuller and more compelling vision of the family and the neighborhood. The differences and commonalities between the sections is intriguing and compelling. The novel does a great job of demonstrating just how differently we all see things and how little we really know about others.
The novel is very much about Jewish mysticism - which I know very little about - but it is also a story about people and their complicated relationships. I found all of the characters to be complex and interesting. I was especially drawn to the neighbor, Mr. Glassman. His story is heartbreaking, but also healing.
I found The Mystics of Mile End to be very much worth the read. It is not a fast read book. It is more of a contemplative read. I won't pretend that I got all that I should out of it, but I feel like I got what I needed. It will be one of those books that sticks in my mind and scenes will pop up at odd times and I will find myself thinking about it unexpectedly. I would highly recommend The Mystics of Mile End to those readers who like to read challenging books, who aren't afraid to delve into weighty topics and like stories about quirky families and faith.
About Sigal SamuelSigal Samuel is a writer and editor for The Jewish Daily Forward. She has published fiction and journalism in The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, BuzzFeed, Tablet, The Walrus, Event, Descant, Grain, Prairie Fire, Room, and This Magazine, among others. She has been a featured writer at the 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.
Sigal’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, October 13th: Back Porchervations
Friday, October 16th: 100 Pages a Day … Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Monday, October 19th: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, October 20th: Worth Getting in Bed For
Wednesday, October 21st: Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Thursday, October 22nd: Man of La Book
Monday, October 26th: A Book Geek
Tuesday, October 27th: Book by Book
Wednesday, October 28th: Novel Escapes
Thursday, October 29th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Friday, October 30th: Not in Jersey