A Blessing on the Moon

Joseph Skibell, Author
Joseph Skibell, Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $21.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-56512-179-9
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 267 pages - 978-0-425-16713-7
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-1-61620-018-3
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-61587-946-5
Book - 1 pages - 978-1-61573-533-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-61573-532-7
Open Ebook - 285 pages - 978-1-61620-027-5
Paperback - 978-1-56512-544-5
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A major talent is revealed in this debut novel, a work that combines the hallucinatory quality of D.M Thomas's The White Hotel, the enigma of a Talmudic fable, the charm of a Yiddish folk tale and the lyric surrealism of a Chagall painting. When elderly Chaim Skibelski climbs out of a mass grave in which the bodies of all the Jewish inhabitants of a Polish village have been thrown by German soldiers, at first he does not understand that he is dead. Lightly, with a sense of wonderment rather than anger, he narrates his return to his own home, where a Polish family are already ensconced, and his discovery that the rebbe has been reincarnated as a crow. The only person who can see Chaim is the terminally ill daughter of the Polish family; Chaim cares for her tenderly, and when she dies, Jesus and Mary bring her to heaven. Eventually, the rebbe opens the mass grave and the dead Jews--their mutilated, decomposing bodies filled with maggots and corroded by lime (the stark realism of their stench coexists with the surreal fantasy of the scene)--follow Chaim and the rebbe through the forest. They come to an opulent hotel where they are welcomed, given beautiful clothes and fine meals. Chaim is reunited with his (dead) wife, children and grandchildren, a bittersweet moment because he realizes that only two members of his family, his sons in America, have escaped the Holocaust. Then, in a stunning scene bristling with irony, the Final Solution is again reenacted. During all this time, the moon has been absent from the sky; the Poles maintain that ""the Yids took it,"" and, indeed, two Hasids have inadvertently pulled the shining orb from the heavens. In the final act of healing with which this novel ends, the traditional Hebrew blessing on the moon brings a kind of closure to the horror. Skibell's masterful skill in maintaining the thin line between fantasy and reality and between sorrow and bitterness, his deft interjection of gallows humor and poetic passages of gossamer delicacy, allows him to spin a story that beguiles even as it breaks your heart. BOMC selection; rights sold in Germany and the U.K.; author tour. (Oct.)
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