• Review
By – March 23, 2017

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.

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