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A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean [Paperback]

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Item description for A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean by Burton L. Visotzky...

The year is 1031. The place is Fustat, Egypt.

Having learned to read and write, Karimah is put to work by her merchant father, Dunash HaCohen al-Tustari, for whom she does bookkeeping.

She is sent to work with Ismail, the son of her father's partner, and they fall in love. Unfortunately, their parents, although colleagues and friends, will not smile upon the union: Ismail is Muslim and Karimah is a Karaite, member of a sect of Jews who adhere solely to the law as it is understood from the written Bible, rejecting rabbinical interpretation.

Karimah runs away with her lover, and her father undergoes mourning for his "lost" child. In his grief, he turns to Rabbenu Nissim, a religious leader and teacher from Kairawan, North Africa; modern-day Tunisia.

Rabbenu Nissim begins to write a series of rabbinical tales to comfort his friend, Dunash. The stories work their magic - Dunash looks forward to the stories he hears of living a life of love, of community and faith in God.

Karimah writes her own scrolls - to her brother, al-Iskander. These are tales of her own fantastic adventures, interspersed with stories she appropriates from the Arabian Nights.

As events unfold, the storytellers become lost in their own stories which begin to entwine and take on a life of their own. The storytellers learn that their tales are mirrors; the more they are told, the more they reflect the teller.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   312
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5.75" Height: 8.75"
Weight:   1.1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 15, 2008
Publisher   Ben Yehuda Press
ISBN  1934730203  
ISBN13  9781934730201  

Availability  0 units.

More About Burton L. Visotzky

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! BURTON L. VISOTZKY is Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He worked with Bill Moyers and more recently with Christiane Amanpour on "Back to the Beginning," aired annually at Christmas time. The author of many books, including Sage Tales: Wisdom and Wonder from the Rabbis of the Talmud, he has been named to "The Forward 50" and repeatedly to the Newsweek/Daily Beast list of the "The 50 Most Influential Jews in America." He lives in Manhattan.

Burton L. Visotzky currently resides in New York. Burton L. Visotzky was born in 1951.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Historical
2Books > Subjects > Romance > General
3Books > Subjects > Romance > Historical > General

Reviews - What do customers think about A Delightful Compendium of Consolation: A Fabulous Tale of Romance, Adventure and Faith in the Medieval Mediterranean?

What a great read!  May 7, 2008
Set in early medieval northern Africa, the book evokes an exotic atmosphere with caravans, rabbinic tales, a rebellious daughter, an outraged father, pirates, Bedouins and more. Burton Visotzky has crafted a novel that consists primarily of letters sent to and from the principal characters in the novel. Despite the letter format, the characters became people that I cared about. The author has also created a great sense of place either through the descriptions one character gives to another of a place he is visiting, or by being dropped in casually as Karima's complaint about the heat in Kairawan (Tunisia) when she was pregnant.
The novel centers on the relationship between the rebellious Karima who runs away from home and her younger brother, Iskander, who is left to help his father with the family business. Other principal characters are Karima and Iskander's father and a close friend and business associate, Rabbi Nissim. Additional characters are deftly woven in and out of the letters as the scenes and events change.
The rabbinic tales that Rabbi Nissim sends to Dunash (Karima's father) to console him as he mourns the loss of his daughter add an additional dimension to the novel. The stories enhance the narrative and may provide comfort to readers who are experiencing losses of their own. The reader is kept on the edge of his seat, rapidly flipping pages to see what happens to Karima and her family next. I highly recommend this 'delightful' book, even if you're not a medievalist.
Delightful!  May 2, 2008
First, let me say that I cannot think of anything that I would change about this book. "A Delightful Compendium" is historical fiction in the form of letters imagined as part of the Cairo Geniza manuscripts. At first, I thought that using nothing but letters and journal entries to tell the story (stories) would wear thin and become a bit tedious after awhile. However, once adjusted to the absence of a narrator, I realized that I had begun to `open' each letter with anticipation. I have read stories and novels written in this way before, and found the form limiting and somewhat frustrating. I do not know what magic Visotzky uses here, but I found myself fully engaged within the first 60 or 70 pages, and from then on, never felt a lull in the telling of the tale.

"A Delightful Compendium" contains the story of the al-Tustaris, a Jewish merchant family living in Cairo under Muslim rule in the 11th century. Central to the story is Karimah, the daughter who has left home with a boyfriend; Dunash, her father, who now considers Karimah dead and maintains regular correspondence with Nissim, a friend, teacher, and trading partner in north-west Africa; and Karimah's brother, Iskander, to whom Karimah writes letters in confidence. Woven together in the resulting bundle of letters are stories of Karimah's adventures, Talmudic stories and Torah wisdom from the sages, and the story of how the al-Tustari family copes with Karimah's departure and the difficulties of trade in a dangerous time and place. All of this is cast with the Muslim majority culture in the background, which quite naturally becomes crucial to the al-Tustari family story. Though I was concerned when I started this novel (especially given the academic credentials of the author), I found that not being of either the Jewish nor Muslim cultures which are central to this story was not a handicap at all. The storytelling is plain spoken and clear, and Visotzky provides a helpful glossary and source notes which are clearly intended to help the `gentile' reader (not too surprising given Visotsky's work in Jewish/Christian/Muslim relations).

I have to say that I was somewhat frustrated by Iskander's silence in the first part of this book, as he only appears as the silent recipient of letters from Karimah or as the voice of his father in correspondence with Nissim. However, when Iskander does appear personally in letters to Karimah and Nissim later in the book, the impact of his letters is magnified by the early silence. I found myself responding emotionally to Iskander's first few personal letters, and he quickly becomes, in my mind, the sympathetic protagonist of the story: heroic in his dedication to duty. That being said, all of the letter writers are fully human - faults, blind-spots, and all. Including these blemishes along with the characters' determination to stay in community with each other and their dedication to their faith help to create fully 3-dimensional persons despite the limitations of the letter/journal format.

In short, an easily accessible peek into 11th century Jewish culture in North Africa in the form of an engaging story of family and community.

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