“Here is a story from the winter days of the end of 1959 and 1960. It is a story of error and desire, of unrequited love, and of a religious question that remains unresolved.” This novel’s first two sentences set the tone for the balance of the story, and the error, desire, love and religious question described are all intermingled in its 300 plus pages.
Shmuel Ash is a confused and naive 25 year old student in Jerusalem, when his father’s financial collapse causes him to leave University and set out on his own. He responds to a notice on a bulletin board in the university seeking a companion. “Offered to a single humanities student with conversational skills and an interest in history, free accommodation and a modest monthly sum in return for spending five hours per evening with a seventy-year-old invalid, an educated, widely cultured man.” When Shmuel first arrives at the house, he is struck by its solemn state. The house “seemed to Shmuel Ash basement-like, lower than street level, sunk almost to its windows in the heavy earth of the slope.”
Samuel accepts the assignment and agrees not to tell anyone what he does at the house or to provide any information about the inhabitants of the house. He is not permitted to bring any visitors to the house which is not a problem for him as he has no friends. Thus begins Shmuel’s intellectual and somewhat surreal immersion into Israeli history and the relationship between Christianity and Judaism.
Shmuel’s ward, Gershom Wald, “was an ugly man, broad, crooked, and hunchbacked.” Wald enjoys philosophical argument and spends many hours on the phone with unknown associates on the other end, deep in discussion. When Wald is not on the phone, Shmuel and Wald engage in intense and sometimes contentious philosophical debates. In this way Shmuel and Wald get to know and appreciate each other and Shmuel learns details about Israel’s history.
Wald’s daughter in law, Atalia, also lives in the dreary house. Shmuel feels an immediate attraction to Atalia, although she is many years older. Both Wald and Atalia have experienced great sorrow that permeates the house, the conversation and the general mood of the novel. Through that sorrow Shmuel ponders many complex religious questions, as well as the direction of his own life. Shmuel stays with Wald and Atalia for about three months.
The book does a good job raising and addressing the many sides of difficult religious and political questions, but offers no answers, perhaps because there are none. This is not a book for everyone but it is a thoughtful assessment of a variety of religious and political issues. You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11224811__Sjudas__P0%2C3__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold