A Delight­ful Com­pendi­um of Con­so­la­tion: A Fab­u­lous Tale of Romance, Adven­ture and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean

  • Review
By – March 5, 2012

The title says it all. Bur­ton Visotzky has tak­en frag­ments from the Cairo Geniza, added mate­r­i­al from the Midrash and oth­er Hebrew sources, plus a sprin­kling of Ara­bi­an Nights and cre­at­ed a won­der­ful his­tor­i­cal nov­el of love and intrigue. It’s a com­ing-of-age tale of a broth­er and sis­ter, set against the rise of Jew­ish for­tune and influ­ence under Moslem rule. Beau­ti­ful Karimah runs away with a Moslem youth. Her father sits shiv­ah; Rab­bi Nis­sim writes to con­sole the fam­i­ly. These let­ters form the Com­pendi­um of the title. Karimah trav­els the Mediter­ranean; her let­ters to her broth­er are the Fab­u­lous Adven­ture part. Broth­er and sis­ter both even­tu­al­ly learn to accept respon­si­bil­i­ty, make informed deci­sions, take charge of their own lives, etc.

Eleventh cen­tu­ry Judaism is por­trayed as a cheer­ful mias­ma of sects and sub­sects; as is the Islam of the day. There are var­i­ous paths to the sacred, and sec­u­lar life as well. Each mar­ket­place, sea voy­age, car­a­van, or polit­i­cal intrigue comes alive through Visotsky’s bril­liant writ­ing. Medieval his­to­ry, geog­ra­phy, and teach­ings of renowned Jew­ish thinkers are seam­less­ly woven into a rich tapes­try. This book is Delight­ful, indeed. Glos­sary, map, notes.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

Discussion Questions