Thursday, May 06, 2010
This book is like a big party, to which everyone has been invited: An art thief and an art forger (who are brother and sister), their father (a one-legged Vietnam vet), their mother (a plagiarist), Marc Chagall, and Der Nister, the Yiddish folktale writer who hid some of his forbidden stories inside the frames of Chagall’s pictures. Like a noisy crowded party, it can sometimes get annoying, and not all the guests fit in as well as others do, but it’s a lot of fun! And at the end it turns into some kind of drunken hallucination where you can’t figure out what is real and what is not, just like some parties do.
There’s a lot to love about this book, and it’s not hard to read, despite how confusing I make it sound. I just loved how the strangest things kept popping up. Here’s one: this book contains several little stories about Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, who was one of Der Nister’s favorite 18th century scholars. Rabbi Nachman was a great believer in the power of happiness to bring us closer to the divine. In Israel right now there is an active group of Rabbi Nachman’s followers. These guys drive around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in white vans, and several times a day they stop to play loud techno music and dance in the streets, all in the name of reminding us of Rabbi Nachman’s teachings. We saw them more than once when we were in Jerusalem, which was where I happened to be when I was reading this book. So here I was, reading about Rabbi Nachman, and watching people be happy about Rabbi Nachman, and then I felt happy, too, and it all just seemed so cosmic.
(Book 21, 2010)