A CURABLE ROMANTIC by Joseph Skibell

Book Quote:

“Indeed, I was quite the romantic. A man would have to be heartless not to be, and a fool not to outgrow it. Of course, every Jew wishes to summon the Messiah, to draw him down, through the force of his own goodness, from the throne upon which he sits chained in the Heavens. But one might profitably ask: Who has chained him there, if not the Lord Himself, the devil being a theological convenience we Jews…forbid ourselves?”

Book Review:

Review by Betsey Van Horn (SEP 8, 2010)

Science, religion, and language intersect in this edgy, Judeo-mystic satire about love, brotherhood, and neuroses in fin-de-siГЁcle Vienna. In 1895, oculist Jakob Sammelsohn meets Sigmund Freud on the same night that he eyes and falls in love with Freud’s primary patient, Emma Eckstein. As Jakob is guided into Freud’s world of psychoanalysis, he reluctantly becomes a guide himself. He plunges into the mythological realm of a dybbuk, the dislocated spirit of his dead wife, Ita, who possesses and inhabits Emma. Or so Ita-as-Emma claims. As the relationship intensifies between Jakob, Freud, and Emma, Ita’s haunting voice lures Jakob into a psychosexual seduction.

But here in Vienna, the cultural center of the world, supernatural notions and Jewish folklore is rejected in favor of more intrepid theories of science and psychology. Freud believes Emma is in the throes of hysteria, while his friend, Dr. Fliess, advances the theory of “nasal reflex neurosis” as the source of all unhappiness. In the meantime, Jakob just wants to lose his virginity. His tyrannical father, who spoke to him only in Hebrew scripture, forced him to marry Ita, the village “idiot,” after the first forced marriage to Hindele ended in chaste disaster. Just after the wedding, Ita fled and drowned herself. But she is back and commanding Jakob with menace and affection.

Jakob later meets Dr. Ludvik Zamenhof, a half-blind, retired oculist and language enthusiast. Zamenhof’s aim is to join all of humanity in a utopian, universal language called Esperanto. When Jakob meets the radiant Esperanto patron, Loe Bernfeld, he is smitten. Subsequently, Jakob is thrust into an idealistic world of love and linguistics–the neutral tongue to unite the world and a passionate one to join him with Loe. But the ether world has a different design on this incurable romantic.

Jakob’s Hebraic-Homeric journey is full of colorful and magical characters, such as bickering, burly angels; a bedeviling dybbuk; a wicked demon child; and zealous polyglots, to name just a few. A clash of the titans of intellect and faith crosscut through the leviathans of lexicon and argot. The story follows Jakob from the countryside of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the cultural hub of Vienna, from the terrifying streets and ghetto of Warsaw, and to celestial, rarefied dimensions.

Skibell’s tale is wholly imaginative and inventive, with ripe and rollicking prose and outrageous, unforgettable characters. In addition, it is peppered with an array of languages and dialog, most notably Hebrew and the enigmatic Esperanto, which endow symbolic and metaphoric texture to the narrative. At times, he is overwrought and long-winded, dawdling down his shadowy side streets and rambling for too long in his self-indulgent thoughts. But his ardent, spunky voice keeps the reader engaged and hooked in this fantastical and sometimes unearthly odyssey.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 9 readers
PUBLISHER: Algonquin Books (September 7, 2010)
REVIEWER: Betsey Van Horn
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Joseph Skibell
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another imagined Freud meeting:

Another imaginative historical novel:


September 9, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  В· Posted in: Contemporary, Facing History, Literary

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