Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon - Richard Zimler

I started this book when I was on holiday at the end of April, and it's taken me until today to finish it. This wasn't because it is particularly long (313 pages) or dull, just that for some reason I just didn't connect with it. The story is a murder mystery set in sixteenth century Lisbon, supposedly written by the protagonist many years later as he tries to understand the context of his uncle's murder.

I think part of my problem with this book was my unfamiliarity with Jewish customs and kabbalah, and though there was a helpful glossary I didn't actually discover this until I was over halfway through. There were also an awful lot of characters who popped up for one scene and then disappeared for 150 pages only to have a critical role in the denouement, which I did find confusing. I had to do a far bit of flicking back to work out who was who. The writing was generally very poetic and evocative, conjuring up an era of intense uncertainty, where the Jews (or 'New Christians' as they were dubbed following their forced conversion by the Portuguese authorities) lived an utterly precarious life, never knowing who to trust. I have Richard Zimler's next book, 'The Seventh Gate', and I will be interested to find out if I am drawn more easily into a story with a modern setting.

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