cover image The Way Back

The Way Back

Gavriel Savit. Knopf, $18.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-9848-9462-5

At once historical and tenderly intimate in scope, Savit’s (Anna and the Swallow Man) ambitious novel begins in the Eastern European shtetl of Tupnik in the 19th century, where the arrival of the Messenger of Death sets two Jewish youths on intersecting paths. The boy, Yehuda Leib, is desperate to recover a soul from Death; the girl, Bluma, eight days his junior, seeks to escape Death’s angel after accidentally acquiring its instrument: a seemingly innocuous but powerful spoon. Both travel into the Far Country, a graveyard-adjacent realm inhabited by demons and the Army of the Dead, attracting the attention of powerful, corrupt demon nobles who see them as tools. Savit suffuses folklore and Jewish mysticism into a narrative tangle of chases and bargains, otherworldly horrors—a wheelchair woven of still-growing fingernails is particularly memorable—and delicate, compassionate moments, all studded with Yiddishisms. The duo’s journey across the demonic demesnes and the mortal town of Zubinsk, where an open wedding invitation convenes both devout Hasidim and opportunistic entities, all looking to benefit from a holy presence, presents a bewitching allegorical adventure comprised of small, beautifully composed moments. Ages 12–up. [em]Agent: Catherine Drayton, InkWell Management. (Nov.) [/em]