The Elixir of Immortality

Gabi Gleichmann, trans. from the Norwegian by Michael Meigs. Other Press, $18.95 (784p) ISBN 978-1-59051-589-1
This lengthy novel is crammed with history and ideas, yet readers may find the weightiest thing about it is the poundage of the actual volume. The narrator, Ari Spinoza, is a direct descendant of the great philosopher Baruch Spinoza. His great-uncle Franz “Fernando” Scharf (related by marriage) is a prolific storyteller with a vast repertoire of tales about past Spinozas. There is Israel, personal physician to the king of Portugal; his son, Chaim; Moishe the cabalist; and French writer Hector, among others. Many, many famous people from history who are not Spinozas make fleeting appearances as well: Freud, Voltaire, and Goya are but a few. On top of this, the more recent histories of Ari; his twin brother, Sasha; and Franz are recounted, such as Franz’s testy relationship with Ari’s grandmother. Little is ever fully developed, though, leaving this book feeling less like a single, satisfying novel than a summary of many other potentially interesting ones. There are plenty of rich ingredients, but somehow they make for a bland broth rather than a rich stew. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/15/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
Genre: Fiction
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