Julius Lester’s The Autobiography of God is an unconventional Jewish novel, challenging the notion that there are proper limits to what an author might write or how wide a range of subject matter should be considered. Lester’s diversified concerns include: Judaic studies and interpretation of Biblical texts; the relations of American Jews and Afro-Americans in our society; the difficulties of a thrice-failed, Yeshiva-trained female rabbi who is rebelling against the fact of the Holocaust and her own crippling infirmity (resulting from an early vehicular accident), which imperils her chances of marrying and having a family; that Rabbi’s possible exposure to the Supernatural and her seeming tendency toward hallucinations; and an esoteric feature of the American literary tradition. The heroine-victim, Rabbi Rebecca (Rivke), winds up as an unofficial rabbi in the northern Vermont mountain area, then as a therapist in Psych Services at John Brown College there. Emotionally wounded and introverted by nature, she is fixated on certain dead people, particularly Holocaust victims. Deeply resentful toward God, she comes to feel that evil is the operating principle in the world, not goodness or love. Her painful saga is complicated by a sexual intrigue and murder on the campus and by her receipt of a mysterious box containing a weird document in Hebrew purporting to be God’s autobiography, an apologia and plea for understanding. Lester’s treatment of the Biblical God concept seems flippant, denigrating, outrageous. But Lester (a convert to Judaism), scatters intriguing questions to ponder throughout the text. It will be interesting to see what Jewish readers make of the novel.
Samuel I. Bellman is professor emeritus at California State Polytechnic University of Pomona. He has been writing on Jewish American writers since 1959.