May 11, 2016

Book Review: "The Mystics of Mile End" by Sigal Samuel

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The Mystics of Mile End, by Sigal Samuel

The Mystics of Mile End
By Sigal Samuel
William Morrow / HarperCollins
Reviewed by Jason Pettus

Say what you will about the school of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah, but it's certainly served as a great basis for all kinds of metaphorically and symbolically wonderful pieces of contemporary fiction, from Myla Goldberg's haunting Bee Season to Darren Aronofsky's head-scratching Pi; and now here's another, Sigal Samuel's imminently readable The Mystics of Mile End, which distinguishes itself from these others by being a coming-of-age domestic drama as well, much like reading a beach novel cross-pollinated with a treatise on Judaic intellectualism since this is precisely what it is. Set in one of the "artsy" neighborhoods on the edge of Montreal, which partly got that way by also being the home of a community of Hasidic Jews, the family under discussion here is not actually part of that community -- the single father's a rationalist college professor, while his kids are normal teenagers pursuing normal things -- although as the years continue, both of these facts about the neighborhood have more and more of an influence on them all, each of them in turn having their lives changed in different ways by the concept of "climbing the Tree of Life" that lies at the heart of Kabbalah. To be clear, you don't really need to know anything about those subjects, or even really about Judaism in general, to enjoy this family-based relationship story; but it's also a smart and well-researched look at those topics for those who do know a bit about it, an examination of modern versus historical Jewishness that also serves as a nice metaphor about aging, whether that's from child to adult or from middle-age to the elderly years. It comes recommended to a general audience, and especially to book clubs looking for something unique and worthy of discussion to choose as their next pick.

Out of 10: 9.4

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:00 AM, May 11, 2016. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |