Researching the descendents of genius pre- World War II Vienna ketubah (marriage contract) illustrator Josef Pick, contemporary art critic Daniel Lichtmann discovers his own past. Daniel becomes intermeshed into the family as a result of his investigations into the probable suicide of his wife Aleksandra, and her lover, sculptor Benjamin Wind. The progeny of a Jewish mother and a father born of an intermarried couple, ten-year-old Josef begins painting ketubot due to prompting from his grandfather. Josef becomes famous throughout Vienna for masterful depictions of the love shared within couples commissioning his work. He creates these symbols alongside the traditional Aramaic text. (The author either erroneously or purposefully calls it Hebrew.) Yet, Josef has difficulty producing a ketubah for his wife, Hannah. Hannah and Josef are eventually interned at separate concentration camps. The story of how Josef’s line survived the Holocaust gains more importance for readers than solving the mystery behind the deaths of Aleksandra and Benjamin. In parallel episodes, readers learn of Daniel’s marriages, which failed presumably because of infertility. Daniel and the memory of Josef intersect on a trip to Vienna, where Daniel also finds a gravestone engraved with the name Lichtmann. This novel depicts the course of modern Jewish history from assimilation to renewal. The question of the marriage artist’s identity persists throughout the book. Is it Josef, his father, Pommeranz, Daniel or perhaps Jewish culture?
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Nicole Levy has completed graduate work in Judaic studies. She writes about Jewish art, culture, history and literature from her home in Swampscott, Massachusetts and is a correspondent for The Jewish Advocate in Boston.