The Strasbourg massacre in 1349 was one of the first pogroms in pre-modern history. Award-winning young adult novelist Eva Wiseman explores this horrific historical event through the mythical and fantastical love story of Natan, a handsome seventeen-year-old Jewish boy, and Elena, the daughter of a local Christian master draper. On his way home from a secret midnight meeting with Elena, Natan witnesses three local thugs plotting to poison the town well and blame it on the Jews. When they discover him, Natan is stabbed to death and becomes an ibbur, a concept from ancient Kabbalah in which a righteous person’s soul temporarily occupies the body of a living person to help save the Jewish people. Natan’s soul is transferred to the body of Hans, Elena’s father’s apprentice. Can Elena still love Natan even though his soul is housed in the body of another man—one who is physically unattractive and even repulsive? Can Natan, using Hans’s body and identity, convince the town council that the Jews did not poison the well and are not responsible for the spread of the plague? Will Natan’s soul ever be returned his dead body?
This is a fascinating, multi-layered, and utterly heart-breaking page-turner about a lesser known event in Jewish history.
Recommended for ages 12 – 18.
Rachel Kamin is the Director of the Joseph and Mae Gray Cultural & Learning Center at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park, Illinois. A past chair of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee, Rachel is currently the co-editor of Book Reviews for Children & Teens for the Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter. She holds a BA in history from Grinnell College and a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Michigan.