In 1897, as the mystic Rabbi Eliezer was in a trance by the side of a lake, a sudden storm, then drop in temperature, caused the holy man to be encased in ice. His followers happened by, and not knowing what else to do, kept the body frozen, awaiting instructions. One family assumed custody. The ‘saintsicle’ endured fleeing various pogroms in a rickety cart, a transatlantic crossing in the early 20th century, and other perilous voyages. Then, in a 1999 power outage, the sleeper awakens as a ‘stranger in a strange land.’ He quickly acclimates and decides the Golden Medina, America, may be a paradise, but it doesn’t have a soul. However, he can fix it.
The care of the frozen (and thawed) rabbi is a family saga, spanning three continents and five generations, full of interesting characters and events. Each successive caretaker undergoes major transformations in response to the blessing (or curse) with which he or she has been saddled. Major events in Jewish history— those mentioned above; the American immigrant experience(s); and the struggle for the State of Israel are handled with grace and humor, but without trivialization.
Most families pass down a body of tradition in some fashion. This family had a real, tangible body. Steve Stern’s innovative novel fits in with other contemporary modern Jewish fantasy writers like Cynthia Ozick, Philip Roth, and Michael Chabon.