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RE: Jonathan Jabbok

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  • Julia Palffy
    David Bratman wrote: I read German a little, and am ... My first search was in Amazon.de, but I saw only the most popular titles and thought maybe Amazon.de
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 20, 2001
      David Bratman wrote:

      I read German a little, and am
      > faintly curious. But first I'd want to know if the books are good. A lot
      > of enticing-looking fantasy books are not.
      > One can also order the books online from the German Amazon site,
      > www.amazon.de.

      My first search was in Amazon.de, but I saw only the most popular titles and
      thought maybe Amazon.de didn't carry the Neschan titles, or they might be
      out of print. Apparently I should have scrolled a bit further down... :0)

      As to whether the books are good, the answer is definitely yes.

      I read a lot, all kinds of books, in several languages. Having discovered
      fantasy literature through some its best authors, I have become pretty
      difficult to please. A comparison to Tolkien on a blurb tends to make me
      suspicious. I'm pretty sensitive to anachronisms too (which is why I got rid
      of Robin MacKinley's "The Outlaw of Sherwood" and Marion Zimmer Bradley's
      "The Mists of Avalon", although I have enjoyed other works by these

      I admit the name of Jabbok sounds rather queer against a Scottish
      background, but after all, even in the Middle Ages, not everyone living in
      Scotland would have been called MacInnish or Stewart. Also, the story does
      not actually say that Jonathan is a Jew. It says that his family originally
      comes from the Holy Land, that one of his ancestors fought at the side of a
      Scottish Crusader in the 1st Crusade and went back to Scotland with him
      after the end of the campaign. Later, Jonathan will discover that long
      before that, another ancestor of his actually came out of Neschan and
      settled in Palestine (a bit like Lewis's Telmarines leave Narnia and settle
      on a South Sea island, although for quite different reasons). There are more
      comings and goings between the world than one expects.

      Isau writes in a clear and direct way. Jonathan's thoughts and words and
      reactions are at once spontaneous and thoughtful, credible, I think, for an
      intelligent thirteen-year-old set apart and made older than his age by
      poliomyelitis. The language used in Neschan can be slightly more formal, at
      times, but there is no pseudo-heroic jargon, and though I don't know Hebrew,
      Isau's use of Hebrew names and words seems to me consistent and balanced.
      The names have been chosen with care and relevance, if I am to believe the
      glossaries at the end of each volume, although the author admits to having
      taken liberties with the Hebrew.

      The story is at first structured in alternating the adventures of Jonathan
      in the "real" world and Yonathan in Neschan, until Jonathan leaves his world
      for Neschan and becomes Yonathan. Once there, he has the knowledge of that
      land gained through his dreams in which he saw it through Yonathan's eyes,
      but he hasn't actually grown up there like Yonathan, and there were lots of
      things Yonathan himself didn't know, so his ignorance keeps him (and the
      reader) in suspense.

      The kinds of people, symbols, scenes and adventures that are encountered
      in the course of the story reflect the Old Testament as Lewis's stories
      reflect the New, and ring bells consonant with the impressions of Jewish
      culture I picked up through my readings. There are also some details which
      seem to me to lean more towards the Christian. I don't know how Jewish
      readers would react to these books (I'd like to know!). Maybe they'd go up
      the walls as I do when I read a fantasy which brings ideas from the
      Declaration of Human Rights into a medieval setting. There are also echoes
      of Michael Ende, but the tone of the story is different. Like C.S. Lewis,
      Isau has a knack of picking up well-known images and interpreting them in an
      entirely new way, which lead to new insights about their meaning and

      In the same way, the characters have personalities of their own, with all
      the complexities and inconsistencies of real human beings. The story may
      describe the battle of good against evil, but it is not pitting a set of
      white chesspieces against a set of black ones, and there are no blatant
      allegories. As in reality, there is an infinity of shades possible between
      good and evil in each single character, the decisive battles are those
      fought within individual minds as they make their choices and at times
      mistakes, friends may turn traitor and enemies repent. The reader might
      think he can expect the victory of the good as a matter of course, but the
      inner logic of the story leaves the issue totally uncertain until the very
      last step.

      I felt queasy at first about mentions of "Yewoh" and his messengers, the
      "Benel" because I thought this very delicate to handle credibly in a
      fantasy, but Isau does this in a way that satisfies me - the Benel are
      mysterious, no fluffy birdmen, and appear very rarely. One gets a sense of
      them belonging to yet another world and having different destinies and
      purposes. They may bring special information the hero requires to complete
      his task, but they leave him the entire freedom and responsability of his
      choices and actions. No 'deus ex machina' here (though plenty of near
      escapes and surprises!).

      I definitely need to reread these books!

      Julia Palffy
      Zug, Switzerland
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