This debut novel is filled with magic, faith, love, rejection, loyalty, family, secrecy, loss, and adventure.
Set in the present, it tells the story of two sisters, Marjorie and Holly — who were raised without religious affiliation — and their close connection to their grandfather, Eli Burke, who told them bedtime stories about the White Rebbe and the Sabbath Light. Eli never spoke of his childhood, but when he dies an old man appears to Marjorie at the funeral and visits her many times. He knows Eli from long ago and claims everything Eli told her is a lie.
Marjorie is working on her Ph.D. dissertation on “the Wandering Jew,” a myth about one who taunted Jesus carrying the cross and was punished with immortality. During her research at the university library Marjorie meets Simon, who is interested in her topic and begins to help Marjorie find sources. Their relationship grows romantically but Marjorie holds back from telling him everything about the dark world in which she is immersed.
Meanwhile, Holly reclaims her Judaism and becomes religiously observant, marries a man named Nathan, and moves into her parents’ home. Nathan is a disciple of the secretive Berukhim Penitents, a group that follows a rabbi who died in the seventeenth century, believes in reincarnation, perform midnight rituals, and searches for the Lost Tribes. He spends all his time immersed in mystical study. Holly’s family disapproves of her marriage and the sisters’ relationship suffers. When Nathan moves Eli’s belongings to the basement in order to make room for the new baby, Marjorie comes in to search for connection between her grandfather’s stories and Nathan’s religious group. She finds one of her grandfather’s notebooks which he had wanted to be destroyed upon his death.
Holly gives birth to a boy who is named Eli after the grandfather. The baby is the center of the family’s world and becomes even more so when he is afflicted by seizures. Marjorie and Nathan each believe they can find the key to reversing the baby’s illness.
This story was difficult to follow but rewarding to read, reminiscent of Dara Horn’s and Nicole Krauss’s works.