asher63 (asher63) wrote,

Better than a pogrom!

Michael Weingrad reviews 'Spinning Silver' and 'Unquenchable Fire' at the Jewish Review of Books.

The protagonist of Spinning Silver is Miryem Mandelstam, the daughter of a village moneylender in Lithvas, Novik’s stand-in for Lithuania. Miryem has a knack for the family business but runs into trouble when she is kidnapped by the Staryk, a magical race that raids our world for the gold they covet.

More unbelievable than any supernatural element is that the Jewish and Christian characters are friendly to the point of (sometimes literal) cuddliness. Indeed, Miryem’s rescue, and the saving of all Lithvas from an eternal winter conjured by the Staryk king, is made possible because of her friendships with the peasant girl Wanda and her brothers. In fact, Miryem’s and Wanda’s families eventually decide to live together in one big house. The book even ends with an interfaith (and interspecies) marriage between Miryem and the Staryk king. (Of course, Miryem insists they have a ceremony with a rabbi; no word yet on how they’re planning to raise the children.) Wanda and her brother Sergey sign the ketuba as witnesses.

Sure, all this beats a pogrom. But given that Novik clearly intends the book to work as a commentary on the situation of Jews in the Eastern European past, the result is an unconvincing muddle. In Novik’s fairy tale, anti-Semitism (along with most other problems) seems mainly a result of economic inequity, scarcity, and greed. If people would just learn to share instead of seeking profits and hoarding wealth it would go away. ...

By contrast, the other fantasy novel I read recently portrays a world in which religion—of a certain kind—is everything. Rachel Pollack’s Unquenchable Fire, first published in 1988, is set in a Poughkeepsie in which the air is thick with benign and malevolent spirits. Daily life is a constant bustle of theurgic rituals and shamanic storytelling. All of this is fused with the ordinary institutions of late 20th-century America, from presidential elections to sporting events. Yet the mash-up is never ironic, and so her middle-class characters (some of whom are nominally Jewish) move through a novel that is unsettlingly surreal. ...

Read the whole thing at the link.
Tags: books, hebraica, science fiction

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