King of the Class

  • Review
June 24, 2013

It’s six years in the future and a two-state solu­tion has come to Israel. How­ev­er, the bor­der doesn’t sep­a­rate Israelis and Pales­tini­ans. Rather, it’s a phys­i­cal bound­ary between reli­gious and sec­u­lar Jews, whose dif­fer­ences have grown so great that they can no longer share a homeland. 

As for­eign stu­dents, non-reli­gious Eve and her fiancé Man­ny have cov­et­ed pass­es to live in Jerusalem in the Ortho­dox State of Israel. The envi­ron­ment influ­ences Man­ny, who reveals that he wants to become reli­gious, to be a rab­bi. Eve and Man­ny share few­er and few­er val­ues. They fight. Their impend­ing mar­riage looks doomed. In Manny’s choice, Green clev­er­ly con­dens­es the strug­gles of a state and a peo­ple into an apart­ment and a relationship.

Just as Eve is about to move on, she’s vis­it­ed by the soul of her unborn child, an elu­sive pale being with shock­ing­ly blue eyes. Named Ben, he begs Eve to recon­sid­er. Ben explains that from the world beyond, he has cho­sen Eve and Man­ny to be his par­ents. If they sep­a­rate, he los­es his chance. 

The vis­it haunts Eve and she bends her life to give life to Ben’s soul, which comes in the form of a son named Net­sach, a beau­ti­ful child and a gift­ed ath­lete who becomes known as the king of the class. But being cho­sen doesn’t make life easy, as Jews every­where know. In the sec­ond half of the book, which becomes a page-turn­ing thriller, Net­sach suf­fers dear­ly for his gifts. 

Weav­ing togeth­er super­nat­ur­al with pol­i­tics, sci­ence fic­tion with social cri­tique, reli­gious com­men­tary with a love sto­ry, and wrap­ping it all up in a nail-bit­ing intrigue is ambi­tious and genre-bend­ing, though at times it does make the read­ing unsteady. Still, Green has writ­ten a won­der­ful­ly strange, com­plex, and thought-pro­vok­ing nov­el. Unlike Net­sach, The King of the Class large­ly suc­ceeds for its gifts.

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