A rabbi in rural Lithuania, Melamed made one great gift to his children: he died at 51, prompting all of them to leave for South Africa and thereby escaping the Nazi holocaust. Jacobson tells the story of the rabbi and his family, and finally goes in search of the village where the story begins. Originally published in 1998 by Hamish Hamilton.
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In 1919 a Lithuanian rabbi named Heshel Melamed unexpectedly died, leaving behind a widow and nine young children. A tragedy, surely. Yet his death, in forcing his penniless family to emigrate to South Africa, inadvertently saved their lives, for between 1941 and 1945, 95 per Cent of the Lithuanian Jewish population were executed by the Nazis and unbearably, their Lithuanian "assistants". There can be little doubt that Heshel and his family would have been murdered, and this is the starting point for Dan Jacobson, the grandson of Heshel; "By evoking the shadow of my grandfather, I hope to discover elements in his life and mine which are now hidden from me".
Heshel's Kingdom, in part, is an account of Jacobson's pilgrimage with his son to Lithuania. They find little remaining pre-1941; however, his novelistic eye takes in the topography of the landscape, and his systematic rendering of it in prose--the numerous bridges, dusty tracks- -is the process he discovers for absorbing something of the environs Heshel would have known. Time is a constant theme, present in the irrecoverable nature of the past, and the ironical prism of perspective Jacobson has at his disposal. As the book draws to its close his tone, which has been masterfully terse and angular, takes on a barely suppressed, glacial anger as he visits one massacre site after another, meeting each village's "one surviving Jew". He identifies the legacy of the Nazis to present day Germans as a suspicion of themselves which may never completely vanish; the overriding legacy of Heshel to his grandson was his life. With this challengingly personal book--not autobiography, travel journal, history tome or detective story, though with elements of them all--Jacobson offers something back to his past, and also to a universal present. --David VincentReview:
"A seamless and tautly written narrative. . . . What we are finally left with is neither a history lesson nor a neatly unfolding drama but simply--not so very simply--an experience which has been lived through, more fully understood than it could ever have been from the outside, and transmuted, thanks to the quality of the writing, into a work of art."--"Daily Telegraph"
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Book Description Penguin Books Canada, Limited, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110140272461