cover image THE TRAVELS OF BENJAMIN OF TUDELA: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century

THE TRAVELS OF BENJAMIN OF TUDELA: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century

Uri Shulevitz, . . FSG, $17 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-374-37754-0

Shulevitz (Snow ) accomplishes the daunting task of condensing the real-life epic journey of a medieval Jewish traveler who set out from his hometown of Tudela, Spain, in 1159 to see "as many places mentioned in the Bible as possible." Through a first-person narrative addressed to his friends and family upon his return, Benjamin vividly recounts "only... the most amazing places I saw and the most fascinating stories I heard" during his treacherous roughly 14-year trip. The highlights mirror the vast nature of the journey, through parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Chapter-like segments include brief factual asides about the destinations as well as Jewish history—both ancient (e.g., the discovery of the secret tombs of the Ancient Hebrew Kings in Jerusalem and Babylon's Tower of Babel) and during Benjamin's time (e.g., the treatment of Jews in those countries). Despite its breadth, Shulevitz keeps this lengthy tale's pace brisk, honing in on details sure to capture readers' imaginations, from a description of the smell of sailing ships ("Rat urine had soaked into the boat's wooden boards") to the sounds of medieval Rome to the colorful sight of a procession in Baghdad, led by the Caliph ("the 'substitute,' of the prophet Muhammad"). Mixed-media illustrations incorporate various artistic styles and jeweled hues that punctuate expansive ocean and desert panoramas. Shulevitz bases this extraordinary work on Benjamin's own Book of Travels (and many other sources listed in an extensive bibliography). The history is especially fascinating given the current focus on the Middle East. Ages 8-up. (Apr.)