cover image The Shoemaker's Tale

The Shoemaker's Tale

Mark Ari. Zephyr Press (AZ), $19 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-939010-38-7

Several years after his parents are killed in an 18th-century Polish pogrom and his sister runs off with a gentile, and a few days after his engagement to the elusively beautiful Rachel, Meir, a very talented shoemaker, impetuously leaves Warsaw in search of the Baal Shem Tov. The ``Besht,'' as he was known, was the charismatic founder of the sometimes exuberant Jewish mystical movement known as Hasidism. Meir never finds the Besht--or, at least, thinks he hasn't, until nearly the end of this charming first novel. But during his search, he meets some extraordinary characters, including a cryptic village fishmonger whose customers are convinced he is a sage, and a golem-like figure who is both monstrous and sorrowful. Several times, he also makes magical shoes that compel their wearers to move in strange ways--to walk against their will, or dance madly. Ari deftly presents a series of linked fantasies, fables and surreal vignettes. His style combines aspects of the allegorical tales of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav (an early Hasidic sage and storyteller), the Hasidic parodies of Woody Allen and magical realism. (Oct.)