What is Jewish fantasy? To Jews of several generations, the answers vary. But with his novel “The Hidden Saint,” author Mark Levenson offers an enjoyable example of profoundly Jewish fantasy fiction. But even more than that, he brings the vanished world of 18th century Eastern European Jewry to vivid life.
The book is so immersive that I often found myself internally translating words from English to Yiddish, simply because I was so engrossed that normal accurate English words and expressions somehow felt slightly wrong.
Even without the imps, the demons, the hero’s quest, a golem, and even Lilith herself, the internal journey of the book’s hero Adam would be well worth a read. There is pain and heartbreak, and there are moments of quiet joy, love, and frustrated aloofness, as we see Adam’s life progress.
It is difficult to express how satisfying the book is on its multiple levels without giving away plot points, or even inadvertently detracting from the spell the book casts while being read. But I can safely say that in an extremely thoughtful afterword, the author places the book’s cosmology squarely where it belongs. This is a quintessentially Jewish fantasy world, of a kind that is all but unknown even to science fiction, fantasy, and horror aficionados like myself.
The greatest evil in this book is no Luciferian villain, but the evil inclination itself, whether manifested by man or demon. And the hero is not saved through Divine grace. The choices that he and others make are what make the difference between good and evil, life and death, and perhaps existence itself. In so doing, Levinson’s Adam deftly underscores another key distinction between Jewish and other conceptions of saintliness. In Judaism, saints — Tzaddikim — are not infallible, or perfect in any sense. They can fear and they can make incorrect decisions, yet we can fully appreciate their holiness without deifying them.
Many of us were taught that the purpose of creation itself was to allow us to exercise free will, and to willingly choose to be partners in the ongoing creation of the universe by choosing to do good over evil. Perhaps it is this thread that runs through the book that resonates most.
Our motives matter, but not nearly as much as our actions do. Extrapolating from the famous Talmudic dictum that unspoken intentions are of little importance, Adam’s journey through this tantalizing blend of Jewish history and legend underscores how holiness is not an abstract state of being, but something achieved and maintained through action, and the use of free will.
Time will tell if this book takes its rightful place alongside other quintessentially Jewish works of fiction, but it deserves to be considered in that light. And, of course, any reader could easily choose to enjoy the experience of reading “The Hidden Saint” without pausing to ponder Jewish metaphysics. Whichever way one wishes to read it, I strongly recommend this book, and I eagerly await Mark Levinson’s next work, whatever it may be.
Aaron Eitan Meyer is an attorney, researcher, public speaker, and author. He has written extensively on lawfare, Middle East affairs and history, Zionism, terrorism, and various legal topics, and is currently completing a long-overdue book on Orde Wingate’s Anglo-Jewish Special Night Squads. He is also sadly unable to write fiction.
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Author: Aaron Eitan Meyer
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