The Path of Names

  • Review
By – May 13, 2013

Ghost sto­ries abound in lit­er­a­ture but we don’t see them much in Jew­ish children’s lit­er­a­ture. This nov­el con­tains a fas­ci­nat­ing com­bi­na­tion of Cabal­is­tic and Jew­ish mys­ti­cal ele­ments and components.

Dahlia Sher­man is a Jew­ish city girl. She is social­ly awk­ward, feels out of place, and has a hard time com­mu­ni­cat­ing with oth­er girls her age. Most of the time she wish­es she were some­where else. She is an ama­teur magi­cian and Har­ry Hou­di­ni is her per­son­al hero and this, along with her love of math, makes Dahlia wish she could go to mag­ic camp or math camp instead of the Hebrew camp her par­ents require her to attend. She doesn’t get along with her peers and makes no effort to change that dynam­ic. She starts see­ing things in camp that look, to her magician’s eye, like amaz­ing mag­i­cal feats. As time pass­es, they become more bizarre and she begins to under­stand that super­nat­ur­al forces are at play.

She begins to expe­ri­ence dreams, which are clear­ly of the nature of gilgul neshamot (spir­i­tu­al pos­ses­sion). The spir­it that seems to be pos­sess­ing Dahlia is that of a young Jew­ish man who stayed in the area sev­en­ty-two years before the camp was there. The num­ber 72, four-times Chai (18), is a mag­i­cal Jew­ish num­ber and an open­ing to some evil spir­i­tu­al occur­rence which seems to repeat itself peri­od­i­cal­ly. As a fan of the num­ber world, Dahlia begins to put the mag­ic and the num­bers togeth­er lead­ing to spooky, fright­en­ing, super­nat­ur­al inci­dents and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the dead, none of which she is pre­pared to pur­sue, yet she finds her­self in the cen­ter of the action, nonethe­less. This book is a fab­u­lous page-turn­er! The writ­ing is excel­lent and the char­ac­ters are pre­sent­ed in depth. The camp set­ting is famil­iar and unthreat­en­ing to many Jew­ish kids, mak­ing this sto­ry of super­nat­ur­al, men­ac­ing events stand out in shock­ing relief. The incor­po­ra­tion of Jew­ish ele­ments, both his­tor­i­cal and Cabal­is­tic, are skill­ful­ly han­dled. The sur­pris­ing twist at the end and the sus­pense through­out make this an excit­ing read.

Some of the trans­la­tion, translit­er­a­tion, and pro­nun­ci­a­tion of Hebrew words and Cal­ab­lis­tic terms are prob­lem­at­ic and will present a dis­trac­tion for read­ers of this book who under- stand Hebrew. Oth­er­wise, this is a great work of fic­tion, for young adults and adults alike, espe­cial­ly those who enjoy a spooky plot.

The book is hearti­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 and up. 
Noa Paz Wahrman is a Jew­ish stud­ies librar­i­an and bib­li­og­ra­ph­er at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty in Bloom­ing­ton IN.

Discussion Questions