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September 12, 2003 - Image 85

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-09-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * **

STAR
DELI

mentioned in The Last
The author
Kabbalist, appears here.
explains that
In fact, John is a descen-
although many
dent of the narrator of
people are aware of
the earlier novel.
having some Jewish
As Hunting Midnight
ancestry, they don't
progresses, John also
have any idea what
comes to understand and
Judaism is. He says
appreciate his Jewish
that, not infre-
identity. The novel ends
quently, he is asked
on a high note of recon-
basic questions like,
ciliation and redemption.
"But how did you
"I personally do feel
know you were
the redemption very
Jewish as a kid?" or
strongly whenever I read
"Were we really
the last part of the book,"
that horrible to the
Zimler says. "It's as
Richard Zimler on the residents
Jews?"
though John has joined
of Porto, Portugal: "There is
When asked if liv-
together what was broken both a great ignorance about
ing in Porto has had
and moved us all one step Jews and a hungry curiosity"
an impact on his
closer — one soul at a
Jewish identity, he
time — toward the world
says, "I think living
we should have."
here and writing my books has given
He then quotes his character: "But
me a living sense of the history of the
what about good? Might it not be able
Jewish people — that it is still here and
to restore life? I cannot say, of course,
still present in our daily lives, and it has
but I've begun to suspect that goodness
a great many facets to the Jewish past
is the only miracle within reach of
that can be instructive to our contem-
human hands: He that pursueth good
porary lives."
may join together what has long been
He says that Portugal has changed so
separated."
very little over the past 300 years that
The novel is just under 500 pages,
he can stand in Lisbon, for instance,
but it's fast-paced, almost cinematic.
"and see the views that the Jews would
Driven by both plot and character, the
have seen when they were living in their
narrative makes for quick, engaging
neighborhood downtown. That brings
reading. Zimler is particularly talented
me back to those times in a very con-
at evoking place, whether the outdoor
crete way."
markets of Porto, a plantation near
Zimler notes that discovering
Charleston or early 19th-century New
Kabbalah also had great impact. "While
York City.
growing up, all I knew of Judaism —
In researching the book, Zimler, who
coming from a secular family — were
grew up in Manhasset, Long Island,
bar mitzvahs and marriages. and Jewish
read a lot about Portuguese history,
cuisine. So it was a great revelation to
Bushman culture, slavery (including
read Gershom Scholem. He opened my
several slave narratives) and Jewish life
eyes.
in Charleston.
"I sometimes say that I used to see
While attending Duke University, he
just the surface of the ocean of Judaism,
traveled a lot in the South, so the
but after reading him I was able to see a
American locales were familiar.
few feet down into the depths."
For Zimler, an exciting moment was
He adds, "Of course, the great mys-
discovering that "the Bushman stories
tics can probably see all the way down
— myths — also take place in an eter-
to the ocean floor, but not me."
nal present. They refer to it as the Time
His next novel, People Change, is
of the First People. It's not an historical
about two women — one Palestinian,
time. It's now It's always now, just as
one Israeli — and the course of their
Moses is always parting the Red Sea
lives, both separately and together, over
now!"
50 years.
Zimler, 47, has been living in
He's also working on a new historical
Portugal for 13 years. He now teaches
novel set in Goa at the end of the 16th
journalism at the University of Porto,
century. That novel is the next install-
and finds that in Porto, "there is both a
ment in a project he calls "The
great ignorance about Jews and hungry
Sephardic Cycle" — a loosely grouped
curiosity. Because of the forced conver-
series of novels about different genera-
sion of 1497 and subsequent marriages
tions and branches of one Sephardic
between New and Old Christians,
family. The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and
everyone in Portugal today has Jewish
Hunting Midnight are the first two in
ancestors on some branch or other."
the "Cycle." ❑

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