Saturday, November 06, 2010

Marek Halter's Saga — The Book of Abraham

I have been reading this amazing book (in paper) since June. It is a thick 800 pages tome, and the very first impression one gets is of the important physicality of books. Still important...

The Book of Abraham” is partially factual partially fictional saga of Marek Halter's family. Marek Halter is Polish born French-Jewish writer and activists. For Poles he is famous for working toward reconciliation between Jews and Poles. He was also very active anti-communist activist (the first independent radio station used by Lech Wałęsa in 1980 was smuggled by Marek Halter to Gdańsk).

The book tells the story of Jewish family with origins in Jerusalem AD 70 during the destruction of the Second Temple. The forefather of all generations is Abraham the Scribe. We follow the paths of his progeny, and on the way we learn the history of Jewish Exile that started in the beginning of the first millennium and ended in XX century. The inseparable companion of the family through the ages is the scroll where the names of the family members are written and transmitted through ages.

Fascinating, colourful plot takes the reader to Alexandria, to Hippo, Toledo, Cordova, Narbonne, Troyes, Strasbourg, Benfeld, Soncino, Salonika, Constantinopole, Amsterdam, Lublin, Żółkiew, Paris, Warsaw and Oddessa... The destiny meets the family ancestors with many important historical figures like Bishop Augustine of Hippo, famous Torah commentator Rashi (at Troyes) or Gutenberg during the time of the invention of books. The stories are told by a very good and captivating narration. If author did not announce it, the reader would not be able to discover where the fiction ends and true account starts.

One of the most important motives of „The Book of Abraham” is about importance of writing and printing and devotion to books. Books are no longer only to be read — they become important elements of family survival, they shape generation by generation, they instil the meaning of life into the hearts of descendants.

For Europeans, who are convinced about superiority of their culture and civilization it is not an easy book. Even though Marek Halter did not write martyrology of Jews, it is hard not to think of the family dole as of martyrdom. Most of the history of Jewish exile is the constant escape. Even in Poland, where the Jewish life flourished, their lives was far from safety. We witness the relatively unknown and senseless Warsaw's Pogrom, and hostility toward Jews before the war, despite their effort to form the military units (many were formed) to fight against Germans. Even though Marek's and his parents’ life was saved by brave Pole during horrors of Warsaw Ghetto, when they returned after the war to then communist, Russian subjugated Poland — they were greeted with a mixture of hostility and contempt. So it is difficult experience for Pole or European to read passages about it. Yet — it is not Halter's invention. He writes in truth... I know it also from my family and my friends families war time and post-war time stories....

I was happy that in the days and years of distraction due to Web and eBooks, in months when I was listening to many audio books, I could find days and hours to dive into this fantastic book and commit o truly deep-reading :-)


  1. Mirek,
    You know that this book was "on my list" - what I haven't revealed is that it stopped me in my tracks. About half way through, I began to feel so burdened by the relentless persecution and suffering of God's people - his *chosen* people. I took a break...a longer break...I read other books...I sought biblical explanations of the suffering of God's people...I read the book of Job....I questioned...I prayed...I waited....

    Finally - you did it!! I thank you for your review. I am relieved. When I started, I had no idea of the way it would affect me. I will post a link to your review before (maybe instead of?) writing a review. Thank you for capturing the essense of this book - which I see as too important not to read, and too important to rush through without getting benefiting from the doubts it will raise...your perspective is a great help to me in making sense of this.


  2. Thanks Diane, I still had a feeling that I did not fully captured the essence of it, so I feel better after your comment...

    But when we come back to the stories in this book. However dramatic are they — they still stand out far from the drama and horror of what happened next to the friends and brothers and sisters of Halters' families. If you read about the colorful life of Jewish part of Warsaw, about those Chassids with their you of every day of their life — and suddenly you discover that all these and all of them were wiped out completely from the surface of the earth by Nazis, and later their vestigial survivors were expelled from Poland by communist Poles — that gives you the true image of iniquity that I feel every day....

  3. So not to fall into despair — I started to read increadible sermons of Ozjasz Thon (

    He was incredible personage, and his sermons show the path ...

    I hope they will, one day, be issued in English ...

  4. Mirek,
    I had been hoping that the horrors of this century were an anomaly, and they were, but what I had not known was that the persecution had been nearly constant. I'm glad that you have also found ways to balance thoughts of this darkness, remembering that it is not all there is, although it is real..

  5. Wow this sounds so wonderful! I've always been fascinated by Jewish history and culture,but couldn't get to read much about either of them. This book may be a good one to start off with.

  6. Yes, it's good. It reads like fascinating novel, but there are a lot of historical facts, names and places and one can really understand the Jewish history better from this book.

  7. ive read this novel in 2001, and until now i still find myself teary eyed everytime i remember the struggles of the Halter family. i have loved many characters in this book, only to find them dead in the next pages. Nomos the Red, Herschel, etc. .... the four types of "fathers".... Its the only book that made me post a world atlas on my wall.. Extraordinary book by Marek Halter.