Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel

4 Star

“This is not an ordinary tree I am making.

“This,” he said, “this is the Tree of Knowledge.” 

In the half-Hasidic, half-hipster Montreal neighborhood of Mile End, eleven-year-old Lev Meyer is discovering that there may be a place for Judaism in his life. As he learns about science in his day school, Lev begins his own extracurricular study of the Bible’s Tree of Knowledge with neighbor Mr. Katz, who is building his own Tree out of trash. Meanwhile his sister Samara is secretly studying for her Bat Mitzvah with next-door neighbor and Holocaust survivor, Mr. Glassman. All the while his father, David, a professor of Jewish mysticism, is a non-believer.

When, years later, David has a heart attack, he begins to believe God is speaking to him. While having an affair with one of his students, he delves into the complexities of Kabbalah. Months later Samara, too, grows obsessed with the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life—hiding her interest from those who love her most–and is overcome with reaching the Tree’s highest heights. The neighbors of Mile End have been there all along, but only one of them can catch her when she falls. 

Sabrina-Kate - 4 Star

I was really excited about reading this book as it is set in one of my favorite neighborhoods in my city, specifically Mile End in Montreal. It is an eclectic mix of people who inhabit this neighborhood and I was curious to see how this new author would pay it justice. I could get a good sense of the neighborhood but that is only because I know it well I think. It wasn't overly described and in fact, the focus of the book was on the characters and not the setting.

The characters took some getting used to as they were all very distinct and in fact, the book is split up between the characters narrating it. I found that this made it a little disjointed but in the end, it worked fairly well. It is always interesting to have varying perspectives in a story after all.
The story itself was a bit strange but definitely made sense to me for the typical story I could believe being true of my fair city. Montreal is nothing but full of interesting characters and I found myself musing over many famous and artistic people who have hailed from that area such as Leonard Cohen and Mordecai Richler. So all that to say that this is not the first author to have been inspired by Mile End and I am sure it won't be the last either.

I enjoyed the story despite finding it delving a little bit too deeply into Judaism at times for my liking. Perhaps because I don't know it in a lot of detail though I like to think that I know it better than most. I had also hoped for a little bit more scene setting with places that I know and love but alas I was to be sadly disappointed there.

All in all, it was a distinctly different but very Montreal style novel with a cast of unforgettable characters who I grew fond of.

Thank you to William Morrow for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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