The Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of God

  • Review
By – August 10, 2012

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.

Discussion Questions