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.