Friday, April 8, 2022

First pages.


The 2022 International Booker Prize

The six shortlisted novels have been announced.


https://thebookerprizes.com/the-booker-library/prize-years/international/2022


First pages.



BORA CHUNG 

Cursed Bunny 

Translated by Anton Hur 


The Head 

She was about to flush the toilet. 

“Mother?” 

She looked back. There was a head popping out of the toilet, calling for her. “Mother?”
The woman looked at it for a moment. Then, she flushed the toilet. The head  disappeared in a rush of water. She left the bathroom. 

A few days later, she met the head again in the bathroom. “Mother!” 

The woman reached to flush the toilet again. The head sputtered, “N-no, just a minute ...” 

The woman stayed her hand and looked down at the head in the toilet. 

It was probably more accurate to refer to it as “a thing that vaguely looked like a head” than an actual head. It was about two-thirds the size of an adult’s head and resembled a lump of carelessly slapped-together yellow and grey clay, with a few scattered clumps of wet hair. No ears, no eyebrows. Two slits for eyes so narrow that she couldn’t tell if its eyes were open or closed. The crushed mound of flesh that was meant to be its nose. The mouth was also a lipless slit. This slit was awkwardly opening and closing as it talked to her, its strained speech mixed with the gurgling of a person drowning, making it difficult to understand. 

“What in bloody hell are you?” the woman demanded.
“I call myself the head,” the head replied.
“You would, obviously,” the woman said, “but why are you in my toilet? And why are you calling me ‘Mother’?”
The head strained as it formed unpracticed speech with its lipless mouth. “My  body was created with the things you dumped down the toilet, like your fallen-out  hair and feces and toilet paper you used to wipe your behind.”
The woman became furious. “I never gave the likes of you any permission to  live in my toilet. I never even created you in the first place, so stop calling me ‘mommy.’ Leave before I call the exterminators.” 

• • •



JON FOSSE 

A New Name. Septology Vi–Vii.

Translated by DAMION SEARLS 


And I see myself standing there looking at the two lines that cross in the middle, one brown and one purple, and I see that I’ve painted the lines slowly, with a lot of thick oil paint, and the paint has run, and where the brown and purple lines cross the colours have blended beautifully and I think that I can’t look at this picture anymore, it’s been sitting on the easel for a long time now, a couple of weeks maybe, so now I have to either paint over it in white or else put it up in the attic, in the crates where I keep the pictures I don’t want to sell, but I’ve already thought that thought day after day, I think and then I take hold of the stretcher and let go of it again and I realize that I, who have spent my whole life painting, oil paint on canvas, yes, ever since I was a boy, I don’t want to paint anymore, ever, all the pleasure I used to take in painting is gone, I think and for a couple of weeks now I haven’t painted anything, and I haven’t once taken my sketchpad out of the brown leather shoulderbag hanging above the stack of paintings I’ve set aside, over there between the hall door and the bedroom door, and I think that I want to get rid of this painting and get rid of the easel, the tubes of oil paint, yes, everything, yes, I want to get rid of everything on the table in the main room, everything that has to do with painting in this room that’s been both a living room and a painting studio, and that’s how it’s been since Ales and I moved in here so long ago, so long ago, because it’s all just disturbing me now and I need to get rid of it, get it out of here, and I don’t understand what’s happened to me... 

• • • 


MIEKO KAWAKAMI

Heaven

Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd 


One day toward the end of April, between classes, I unzipped my pencil case and found a folded triangle of paper between the pencils. 

I unfolded it to see what was inside.
“We should be friends.”
That’s all it said. Thin letters that looked like little fishbones, written in mechanical pencil.
I quickly folded it up and slid it back into my pencil  case. Taking a breath, I paused a second before looking around the room as casually as possible. The same group of classmates joking around and howling, the usual break between classes. I tried to calm myself down by repeatedly straightening my textbooks and notebooks, then I sharpened a pencil, taking my time. Before long, the bell rang for third period. Chair legs screeched across the floor. The teacher walked into the room and class began. 

The note had to be a prank, but I had no idea why those guys would try something so subtle after all this time. I sighed in my mind, settling into the usual  darkness.

Only that first note was left inside my pencil case. After that, they were taped to the inside of my desk, clinging to the underside, where my hand would easily detect them. Whenever I found a note, I got goosebumps. I scanned the classroom, careful not to get caught, but it always felt like somebody noticed my reaction. I was overtaken by a strange anxiety, at a loss for how to act. 

• • •




CLAUDIA PIÑEIRO

Elena Knows

Translated by Frances Riddle 


I: MORNING (SECOND PILL) 

1 

The trick is to lift up the right foot, just a few centimetres off the floor, move it forward through the air, just enough to get past the left foot, and when it gets as far as it can go, lower it. That’s all it is, Elena thinks. But she thinks this, and even though her brain orders the movement, her right foot doesn’t move. It does not lift up. It does not move forward through the air. It does not lower back down. It’s so simple. But it doesn’t do it. So Elena sits and waits. In her kitchen. She has to take the train into the city at ten o’clock; the one after that, the eleven o’clock, won’t do because she took the pill at nine, so she thinks, and she knows, that she has to take the ten o’clock train, right after the medication has managed to persuade her body to follow her brain’s orders. Soon. The eleven o’clock train won’t do because by then the medicine’s effect will have diminished and almost disappeared and she’ll be back to where she is now, but without any hope that the levodopa will take effect. Levodopa is the name for the chemical that will begin circulating in her body once the pill has dissolved; she has known that name for a while now. Levodopa. The doctor said it and she wrote it down for herself on a piece of paper because she knew she wasn’t going to understand the doctor’s handwriting. She knows that the levodopa is moving through her body. All she can do now is wait. She counts the streets. She recites the names from memory. From first to last and last to first. Lupo, Moreno, 25 de Mayo, Mitre, Roca. Roca, Mitre, 25 de Mayo, Moreno, Lupo. Levodopa. It’s only five blocks to the train station, it’s not that many, she thinks, and she continues reciting the street names, and continues waiting. Five. She can’t yet shuffle down those five blocks but she can silently repeat the street names. She hopes she doesn’t run into anyone she knows today. No one who will ask after her health or give her their belated condolences over the death of her daughter. 

• • •




GEETANJALI SHREE

Tomb of Sand

Translated by Daisy Rockwell


PART ONE 

MA’S BACK 

1. 

A tale tells itself. It can be complete, but also incomplete, the way all tales are. This particular tale has a border and women who come and go as they please. Once you’ve got women and a border, a story can write itself. Even women on their own are enough. Women are stories in themselves, full of stirrings and whisperings that float on the wind, that bend with each blade of grass. The setting sun gathers fragments of tales and fashions them into glowing lanterns that hang suspended from clouds. These too will join our story. The story’s path unfurls, not knowing where it will stop, tacking to the right and left, twisting and turning, allowing anything and everything to join in the narration. It will emerge from within a volcano, swelling silently as the past boils forth into the present, bringing steam, embers, and smoke. 

There are two women in this story. Besides these women, there are others who came and went, those who kept coming and going, those who always stayed but weren’t as important, and those yet to be mentioned, who weren’t women at all. For now, let’s just say that two women were important, and of these, one was growing smaller, and the other bigger. 

There were two women and one death. 

Two women, one death. How nicely we’ll get on, us and them, once we all sit down together! 

Two women: one mother, one daughter, one growing downwards, the other growing upwards. One laughs and says, I’m growing smaller by the day! The other is saddened, but says nothing when she sees herself growing bigger. 

• • •



OLGA TOKARCZUK

The Books of Jacob

Translated by Jennifer Jacob


Prologue

Once swallowed, the piece of paper lodges in her esophagus, near her heart. Saliva-soaked. The specially prepared black ink dissolves slowly now, the letters losing their shapes. Within the human body, the word splits in two: substance and essence. When the former goes, the latter, formlessly abiding, may be absorbed into the body’s tissues, since essences always seek carriers in matter—even if this is to be the cause of many misfortunes.

“Yente wakes up. But she was just almost dead! She feels this distinctly now, like a pain, like the river’s current—a tremor, a clamor, a rush.

With a delicate vibration, her heart resumes its weak but regular beating, capable. Warmth is restored to her bony, withered chest. Yente blinks and just barely lifts her eyelids again. She sees the agonized face of Elisha Shorr, who leans in over her. She tries to smile, but that much power over her face she can’t quite summon. Elisha Shorr’s brow is furrowed, his gaze brimming with resentment. His lips move, but no sound reaches Yente. Old Shorr’s big hands appear from somewhere, reaching for her neck, then move beneath her threadbare blanket. Clumsily he rolls her body onto the side, so he can check the bedding. Yente can’t feel his exertions, no—she senses only warmth, and the presence of a sweaty, bearded man.

Then suddenly, as though from some unexpected impact, Yente sees everything from above: herself, the balding top of Old Shorr’s head—in his struggle with her body, he has lost his cap.

And this is how it is now, how it will be: Yente sees all.




Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Cait Johnson: Witch Wisdom For Magical Aging

 


• Presents four loving, feisty old witches, one for each season, who share earth-honoring wisdom, rituals, and spells to help you embrace your journey through the sacred latter half of life 

• Filled with magical recipes, inspiring ceremonies, playful activities, and meaningful meditations 

You are invited into the magical world of four loving, feisty old witches, one for each season, who share earth-honoring wisdom, rituals, and spells to help you embrace your journey through the sacred latter half of life. 

In the season of Winter, the earthy Root Witch reminds us that bodies are made for pleasure, and that Winter is made for dreaming. She offers spells, rituals, and ceremonies to reframe your perspectives on aging and promote acceptance of your changing appearance. She also shares secret recipes for a healthy, happy body, focusing on preparations that help maintain and restore hair, skin, and bone. In Spring, the airy Winged Witch offers a witchy approach to spring cleaning, both in the traditional sense and in self-understanding and relationships. She shares recipes and rituals for jettisoning the dead past, discovering your own authentic style, adding magic to your clothes, and feathering your nest so it feels like home to your spirit. 

The fiery Summer Merwitch helps us to be more joyfully creative, with activities and wisdom to help overcome the obstacles that prevent us from fulfilling our creative dreams. She honors the senses, encourages us to embrace our sexuality, and gives us ways to express our fiery anger cleanly and powerfully. The watery Autumn Kitchen Witch shows us how to honor our harvests and our ancestors, how to make peace with death, and how to make every meal a celebration of life, with magical recipes and rituals that bring joy to the soul. The Kitchen Witch also explores several goddesses and wise old women from folklore who can offer templates for a rich and spiritualized maturity. 

Offering practical and enjoyable ways to make aging an empowering, magical, and transformative adventure, this book of spiritual guidance will help you love yourself through the aging process.







Saturday, January 1, 2022

Amanda Gorman. New Day's Lyric.

 







New Day's Lyric




May this be the day

We come together.

Mourning, we come to mend,

Withered, we come to weather,

Torn, we come to tend,

Battered, we come to better.

Tethered by this year of yearning,

We are learning

That though we weren't ready for this,

We have been readied by it.

We steadily vow that no matter

How we are weighed down,

We must always pave a way forward.


*


This hope is our door, our portal.

Even if we never get back to normal,

Someday we can venture beyond it,

To leave the known and take the first steps.

So let us not return to what was normal,

But reach toward what is next.


*


What was cursed, we will cure.

What was plagued, we will prove pure.

Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,

Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,

Where we weren't aware, we're now awake;

Those moments we missed

Are now these moments we make,

The moments we meet,

And our hearts, once all together beaten,

Now all together beat.


*


Come, look up with kindness yet,

For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.

We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,

But to take on tomorrow.


*


We heed this old spirit,

In a new day's lyric,

In our hearts, we hear it:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne.

Be bold, sang Time this year,

Be bold, sang Time,

For when you honor yesterday,

Tomorrow ye will find.

Know what we've fought

Need not be forgot nor for none.

It defines us, binds us as one,

Come over, join this day just begun.

For wherever we come together,

We will forever overcome.



Saturday, November 13, 2021

Olga Tokarczuk THE BOOKS OF JACOB excerpts

 


Fitzcarraldo Editions


https://fitzcarraldoeditions.com/books/the-books-of-jacob#_



THE BOOKS OF JACOB

Olga Tokarczuk

Translated by Jennifer Croft

Published 15 November 2021

French paperback with flaps, 928 pages



THE BOOK OF FOG


I .

1752, ROHATYN


It’s early morning, near the close of October. The vicar forane is standing on the porch of the presbytery, waiting for his carriage. He’s used to getting up at dawn, but today he feels just half awake and has no idea how he even ended up here, alone in an ocean of fog. He can’t remember rising, or getting dressed, or whether he’s had breakfast. He stares perplexed at the sturdy boots sticking out from underneath his cassock, at the tattered front of his faded woollen overcoat, at the gloves he’s holding in his hands. He slips on the left one; it’s warm and fits him perfectly, as though hand and glove have known each other many years. He breathes a sigh of relief. He feels for the bag slung over his shoulder, mechanically runs his fingers over the hard edges of the rectangle it contains, thickened like scars under the skin, and he remembers, slowly, what’s inside – that heavy, friendly form. A good thing, the thing that’s brought him here – those words, those signs, each with a profound connection to his life. Indeed, now he knows what’s there, and this awareness slowly starts to warm him up, and as his body comes back, he starts to be able to see through the fog. Behind him, the dark aperture of the doors, one side shut. The cold must have already set in, perhaps even a light frost already, spoiling the plums in the orchard. Above the doors, there is a rough inscription, which he sees without looking, already knowing what it says – he commissioned it, after all. Those two craftsmen from Podhajce took an entire week to carve the letters into the wood. He had, of course, requested they be done ornately:


HERE TODAY AND GONE TOMORROW

ИOUSE TO MILK IS YOUR SORROW


Somehow, in the second line, they wrote the very first letter backwards, like a mirror image. Aggravated by this for the umpteenth time, the priest spins his head round, and the sight is enough to make him fully awake. That backwards И... How could they be so negligent? You really have to watch them constantly, supervise their each and every step. And since these craftsmen are Jewish, they probably used some sort of Jewish style for the inscription, the letters looking ready to collapse under their frills. One of them had even tried to argue that this preposterous excuse for an N was acceptable – nay, even preferable! – since its bar went from bottom to top, and from left to right, in the Christian way, and that Jewish would have been the opposite. The petty irritation of it has brought him to his senses, and now Father Benedykt Chmielowski, dean of Rohatyn, understands why he felt as if he was still asleep – he’s surrounded by fog the same greyish colour as his bedsheets; an off-white already tainted by dirt, by those enormous stores of grey that are the lining of the world. The fog is motionless, covering the whole of the courtyard completely; through it loom the familiar shapes of the big pear tree, the solid stone fence and, further still, the wicker cart. He knows it’s just an ordinary cloud, tumbled from the sky and landed with its belly on the ground. He was reading about this yesterday in Comenius.

     Now he hears the familiar clatter that on every journey whisks him into a state of creative meditation. Only after the sound does Roshko appear out of the fog, leading a horse by the bridle; after him comes the vicar’s britchka. At the sight of the carriage, Father Chmielowski feels a surge of energy, slaps his glove against his hand and leaps up into his seat. Roshko, silent as usual, adjusts the harness and glances at the priest. The fog turns Roshko’s face grey, and suddenly he looks older to the priest, as though he’s aged overnight, although in reality he’s a young man yet.

     Finally, they set off, but it’s as if they’re standing still, since the only evidence of motion is the rocking of the carriage and the soothing creaks it makes. They’ve travelled this road so many times, over so many years, that there’s no need to take in the view any longer, nor will landmarks be necessary for them to get their bearings. Father Chmielowski knows they’ve now gone down the road that passes along the edge of the forest, and they’ll stay on it all the way to the chapel at the crossroads. The chapel was erected there by Father Chmielowski himself some years earlier, when he had just been entrusted with the presbytery of Firlejów. For a long time he had wondered to whom to dedicate the little chapel, and he had thought of Benedict, his patron saint, or Onuphrius, the hermit who had, in the desert, miraculously received dates to eat from a palm tree, while every eighth day angels brought down for him from heaven the Body of Christ. For Father Chmielowski, Firlejów was to be a kind of desert too, after his years tutoring His Lordship Jabłonowski’s son Dymitr. On reflection, he had come to the conclusion that the chapel was to be built not for him and the satisfaction of his vanity, but rather for ordinary persons, that they might have a place to rest at that crossroads, whence to raise their thoughts to heaven. Standing, then, on that brick pedestal, coated in white lime, is the Blessed Mother, Queen of the World, wearing a crown on her head, a serpent squirming under her slipper.

     She, too, disappears into the fog today, along with the chapel and the crossroads. Only the treetops are visible, a sign that the fog is beginning to dissipate.

      ‘Kaśka won’t go, good sir,’ Roshko grumbles when the carriage comes to a stop. He gets out of his seat and vigorously crosses himself – once, twice, and then again.

     He leans forward and peers into the fog as he would into water. His shirt pokes out from underneath his faded red Sunday doublet.

     ‘I don’t know where to go,’ he says.

     ‘What do you mean, you don’t know? We’re on the Rohatyn road now,’ the priest says in astonishment.

     And yet! He gets out of the britchka to join his servant. Helplessly they circle the carriage, straining their eyes into the pale grey. For a moment they think they see something, but it’s only that their eyes, unable to latch on to anything, have begun to play tricks on them. But how can they not know where to go? It’s like getting lost in one’s own pocket.

     ‘Quiet!’ the priest says suddenly and raises his finger, straining to hear. And indeed, from somewhere off to the left, through the billows of fog, the faint murmur of water reaches their ears.

     ‘Let’s follow that sound,’ the priest says with determination. ‘That’s water flowing.’

     Now they’ll slowly creep along the river people call the Rotten Linden. The water will be their guide.



* * * 




https://www.massreview.org/sites/default/files/010_56.3Tokarczuk.pdf


Olga Tokarczuk

The Books of Jacob

Translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft



On how Iwanie, a little village on the Dniester, becomes a republic

Iwanie is not far from the fault that is the bed of the Dniester River. The way the village is arrayed along the Transnistrian plateau it looks like dishes set out on a table, too close to the table’s edge.  A single careless movement, and it will all come clattering down.

Through the middle of the village runs a river, sectioned off every few yards by primitive valves that produce little ponds and pools. Ducks and geese were once kept here. All that’s left of them now is a few white feathers: the village was abandoned after the last plague. It has only been since August, (with the Schorrs’ money and the benevolent bishop’s blessing, since the village lies on his estate) that the true believers have resided here. As soon as the safe conduct is issued by the king, people begin to make their way to Iwanie in carriages and on foot—from the south, from Turkey, from the north, from the towns of Podolia. They are, by and large, the same people who’d camped out on the border after being expelled from Poland, people who discovered, on  finally being permitted to return home, that in fact they no longer had homes. Their jobs had been given to others, and their houses had been looted and moved into, and if they wanted them back they’d have to try to  figure out some way of asserting their property rights, by law or by force.

Some lost everything, especially those who made their living by trade and who’d had stalls and significant stock at the time. These people have nothing now. Like Shlomo of Nadwórna and his wife, Wittel. Shlomo and Wittel owned workshops in Nadwórna and Kopczyńce that made duvets. All winter women would come and pluck feathers, always overseen by Wittel, whose nature is swift, and clever. Then they would sew their warm quilts, so good they’d get commissioned by estates and palaces, their down light and fragrant, the exteriors ornate with pink patterned Turkish damask. But all this was lost in the later tumult. Feathers were strewn across Podolia by the wind, damask trampled or thieved. The house’s roof caught fire. Now it’s uninhabitable.

Peeking out from the wintry mix of black and white, the little dwellings of Iwanie are overgrown with river reeds. A road winds along between them, traveling down the pocked, uneven yards that are strewn with the remnants of abandoned plows, rakes, shards of pots.

The village is run by Osman of Czerniowce, and it is he who posts guards at the village entrance, to prevent undesirables from straying in. Sometimes the entrance is blocked by carts. The horses stomp holes into the frozen ground.

Newcomers to the village must  first go to Osman and leave all their money and valuables with him. Osman is Iwanie’s steward, and he has an iron lockbox where he keeps the common holdings. His wife, Chava, Jacob’s sister, manages the offerings from true believers across Podolia and the Turkish lands — the lockbox contains clothing, shoes, tools for work, pots, glass, and even children’s toys. And it is Chava who assigns the morning’s work to the men of the village.These men take the cart to get potatoes from a farmer; these others go for cabbage.

The community has its own cows and a hundred chickens. The chickens are a new acquisition—still the sounds of coop-building permeate the air, the noises of the perches being hammered in. Past the little houses there are community gardens. The gardens are pretty, though there isn’t much in them yet: they arrived in August, too late to plant. Wild vines line the houses’ roofs, untended, giving sweet little grapes. They were able to harvest some pumpkins. There was an abundance of plums, as well — small, dark, and sweet — and apple trees that bulged with apples. Now that the frosts have set in, everything’s turned gray. Now they are all audience to the winter theater of putrefaction.

People arrive all winter, on a daily basis, especially from Wallachia and the Turkish lands, but also Czerniowce, Jassy, even Bucharest. All thanks to Osman—it is he who draws their brethren, especially those subjects of the Sultan who have already converted to Islam. From the local Podolian Jews these folk differ only slightly: they’re a bit more tanned, more vibrant, readier to dance. Their songs are a little livelier. Languages, clothing, and headdress mix. Some wear turbans, like Osman and his plentiful family, while others wear fur shtreimels. Some sport Turkish fezzes. And northerners wear four-pointed caps. The children embrace their new playmates, those from Podolia and those from the East all chasing each other merrily around the ponds. When winter comes, they chase each other around the ice.


Quarters are tight. For now they crowd inside their little dwellings with their children and all of their possessions, and even so they’re very cold, because the one thing they have none of in Iwanie is wood to burn. In the mornings the little panes of glass in the windows are covered in frost that forms patterns in an innocent imitation of the products of spring — leaves, buds, fern  flower shoots.

Chaim of Kopczyńce and Osman allocate housing to newcomers. Chava, who’s in charge of provisions, distributes blankets and pots, shows them where they can cook, where they can wash up — there is even a mikveh at the end of town. She explains that here everyone eats together and cooks together. And all work will be communal: the women will take care of the sewing, and the men will repair the buildings and  find fuel. Only children and the elderly are entitled to milk.

And so the women launder, cook, sew, feed. There has already been one birth here, of a boy they named Jacob. Meanwhile the men head out in the mornings on business, seeking trade — earning money. In the evenings they convene. A couple of adolescents make up Iwanie’s postal service, delivering packages on horseback, going all the way to Kamieniec if need be, sneaking across the border, to Turkey, to Czerniowce. From there the post goes on.

Yesterday the other Chaim, the one from Busko, Nachman’s brother, brought Iwanie a herd of goats, dispensing them evenly around the different households—there is no little rejoicing over this, for there had not been enough milk for the children. The younger women assigned to the kitchen all leave their offspring with the older women, who have assembled a thing in one of the cottages that they call “kindergarten.”


It is the end of November, and everyone in Iwanie is eager for Jacob’s arrival. Scouts have been sent to the Turkish side. The younger boys stake out the river’s high banks, inspect the older men’s beards. A solemn silence has descended upon the village, everything ready since yesterday. Jacob’s abode glistens, cleansed. Over the miserable  oor of tamped-down clay they’ve unfurled kilims. Snow-white curtains hang in the windows.

And  FInally there are whistles and whoops from along the riverbanks. He is here.

At the entrance to the village, Osman of Czerniowce awaits, suffused with joy but solemn, and on seeing them, he starts to sing in a strong and beautiful voice: “Dio mio, Baruchio...”  and the melody is taken up by the excited crowd that is waiting there, too. The procession that comes around the bend looks like a Turkish formation. In its center is a carriage, and excited eyes seek Jacob out there—but Jacob is the man riding ahead, on the gray horse, dressed like a Turk, in a turban and a fur-lined light blue coat with broad sleeves. His beard is long and black, which lends him years. Jacob dismounts and touches his forehead to Osman’s forehead, and Chaim’s, laying his hands on their wives’ heads. Osman leads him to his house, which is the largest in Iwanie; the yard all cleared, the entrance lined with spruce. But Jacob points at a little hut nearby, an old shed slapped together out of clay, and he says he wants to live alone, anywhere, he says — that hut in the yard there would work  fine.

“But you are a Hakham,” says Chaim. “How could you possibly live alone in a hut?”

But Jacob insists.

“I’m a simple man,” he says.

Osman doesn’t really get it, but he rushes to arrange for the shed to be tidied up now for Jacob all the same.


On the sleeves of sabbatai zevi's holy shirt

Wittel has thick curls the color of the grass in autumn. She is tall, with a good build. She holds her head high. She appointed herself to Jacob’s service. She glides between Iwanie’s houses, graceful, jocular,  ushed. She is witty. Since Jacob’s hut is in their yard, she has taken on the role of his protector, at least until the arrival of his rightful wife, Hana, and their kids. For now Wittel has a monopoly on Jacob. Everybody is always wanting something from him, always pestering him, and Wittel is the one who shoos them away. Sometimes people come down just to look at where he lives, and then Wittel goes and beats carpets on the fence and blocks the entrance with her body.

“The Lord is resting. The Lord is praying.The Lord is delivering His blessing to our people.”

By day everyone works, and Jacob can often be seen amongst them, with his shirt unbuttoned—for Jacob never gets cold—as he chops wood in a frenzy or unloads carts and carries bags of  our. Only when the sun sets do they all gather for the teachings. It used to be that the men and women heard the teachings separately, but He has introduced a different custom now into Iwanie. Now the teachings are for all adults.

The elders sit on benches while the youth squeeze in along the bundles of grain.The best part of the teachings is the start of them, because Jacob always tells funny stories that make them all burst out laughing. Jacob likes dirty jokes.

“In my youth,” he begins, “I went to one village where they had never seen a Jew before. I drove up to the inn where all the farmhands and the wenches went. The wenches were weaving, and the farmhands were  filling their heads with all sorts of different stories.There was one of them that spotted me and launched into insults, and kept on mocking me. He started telling this story about the Jewish God and the Christian God, how the Christian smacked the Jew smack dab in the kisser. This seemed to really crack them up because they belly-laughed like the guy was some  first-class wit, even though of course he wasn’t. So I told them one, too, about Mohammed and Saint Peter. And Mohammed says to Peter,‘I got a good idea to rut you, good and Greek.’ Peter didn’t want to, but Mohammed was strong, and he tied Peter to a tree and did his thing. Peter howling out how his backside was burning, how he’d take him on as his saint now, if he’d only just stop.

“Well, my little story didn’t go over so well, and the farmhands and the wenches had all cast their eyes down to the ground, but then that more aggressive one said to me, like to make peace, ‘Let’s call a truce,’ he says, ‘We won’t say nothing on your God, and you don’t say nothing on ourn. And let alone Saint Peter.’”

The men chuckle, and the women look down, but in fact they all like it that Jacob, a saint and a scholar, is also just himself, without turning his nose up.They like that he lives on his own in that little hut, and that he wears regular clothes. They love him for it. Especially the women. The women of the true faith are con dent and gregarious.They like to  irt, and what Jacob teaches pleases them: that they can forget the Turkish customs that say they ought to be shut up inside their homes. He says Iwanie needs women just as much as men, for different things, but still it needs them all the same.

Jacob also teaches that from now on there is nothing that belongs to just one person; no one has things of his or her own. If anybody was to need something, he is to request it of the person who has had it prior, and his request shall inevitably be granted. Alternatively those in want can go to the steward Osman or to Chava, and whatever their lacks, they will be attended to — if their shoes fall apart, or their shirt comes unraveled, or the like.

“Even without any money?” shouts one of the women, and the other women are quick to respond:“In return for those pretty eyes...” 

And everyone laughs.

Not everyone understands the thing about giving up their belongings. Yeruchim and Haim from Warsaw keep saying that it can’t last, that people are greedy by nature and will just want more and more and try to turn a pro t off the things that they receive. But others, like Nachman and Moshe, say they’ve seen this kind of community work before. So they stick up for Jacob. Nachman in particular is a big supporter of the idea. He can often be found delivering his speech on the subject around the different households of the village:

“This was exactly how it used to be in the world before there were laws. Everything was held in common, every good belonged to everyone, and everyone had enough, and the commands ‘Thou shalt not steal’ and ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ didn’t exist because if anybody had said them nobody else would have even understood. ‘What is stealing?’ they would have asked.‘What is adultery?’We should live in the same way, because the old law no longer applies to us now.There have been three: Sabbatai, Berechiah, and now Jacob. He is the greatest of them, and he is our salvation. We must rejoice that our time is the time of salvation.The old laws no longer apply.”

During Hanukkah, Jacob distributes pieces of Sabbatai Zevi’s shirt as relics. This is a great event for the entire community. It is the shirt that the First One threw to Halabi’s son; Schorr recently purchased both its sleeves from Halabi’s son’s granddaughter, paying a pretty price for them, too. Now pieces of the material — each of them smaller than a  fingernail — make their way into amulets, little cherrywood boxes, pockets, and leather pouches worn around the neck. The rest of the shirt is placed in the box at Osman’s. It will belong to all those who have yet to arrive.


On the workings of Jacob's touch

Moshe from Podhajce, who knows everything, sits among the women weaving. He is very warm. Clouds of fragrant smoke rise toward the wooden ceiling.

“You all know,” he says,“the prayer that talks about Eloah encountering the demon of illnesses, who used to set up shop in people’s extremi- ties and so make them sick. But Eloah says to the demon, ‘Just as you can’t drink down the whole sea, so you will not do any further harm to mankind.’ Just like that. And Jacob, our Lord, is like Eloah: he, too, can converse with the demon of illnesses.And all he has to do is give him a dirty look, and off the demon goes.”

This makes sense to them. For there is ever an endless procession of people standing at the door to Jacob’s shed, and if Wittel permits them inside, into the presence of the Lord, Jacob will lay his hands on the heads of the suffering, moving his thumb over their foreheads, back and forth, sometimes he blows in their faces — and it almost always helps. They say that he has hot hands that can melt away all maladies, all variety of pain.

Jacob’s fame quickly spreads through the vicinity, and even local peasants end up coming to Iwanie (which they call “calling on the slubs”). They’re suspicious of these oddballs, neither Jews nor Gypsies. But Jacob rests his hands on their heads, too. In exchange they leave eggs, chickens, apples, grain. Chava tucks everything away in her chamber and distributes it evenly later on. Every child receives an egg for Shabbat. Chava says “for Shabbat,” although in reality Jacob has told them not to keep the Sabbath. All the same, unable to get used to this new edict, they still mark the passage of time from Shabbat to Shabbat.

In February something strange occurs, a real miracle, but of this Moshe knows next to nothing. Jacob has forbidden talk of it. Chaim, on the other hand, was there. A Podolian girl grew ill, very ill by the time she was brought in—for she had begun even to die.And her father let out a terrible howl, tearing out his own beard in despair because she had been his most beloved child.They sent for Jacob. At first when he got there he only shouted at them to shut up.Then he holed up with the girl for a while — and then when he left, she was cured. And he told her to wear white.

“What did you do to her?” asked Shlomo,Wittel’s husband.

“I had relations with her, and she got better,” said Jacob. And he re- fused to say any more on the matter.

Shlomo, a polite and serious man, did not at  first understand what he had just been told. He couldn’t quite recover from it after. That evening Jacob smiled at him as though perceiving Shlomo’s torment, and he reached out and tugged him gently in by the nape of the neck like a girl does with a boy. He blew into his eyes and told him not to tell anyone. Then he went off and paid him no more mind.

But Shlomo did tell his wife, though she swore she’d keep it secret. And yet, although no one knew how it had happened, within a few days all of Iwanie had heard the secret. Words are like lizards, able to elude all containment.


On what the women say while plucking chickens

First, that the face of the Bible’s Jacob served as the model when God was creating the angels’ human faces.

Second, that the Moon has Jacob’s face.

Third, that you can engage a man to give you children if you can’t get pregnant with your husband.

They recall the story of Issachar, son of Jacob and Leah: Leah engaged Jacob to sleep with her and then bore him a son. She compensated Jacob with a mandrake found by Reuben in the desert, much desired by the infertile Rachel. (Then Rachel ate that mandrake and bore Jacob his son Joseph.) All this in the Scriptures.

Fourth, that you can get pregnant by Jacob without him even brushing up against your pinky  finger.

Fifth, that when God created the angels, right away they opened up their mouths and praised Him. And, too, when God created Adam, the angels piped right up: “Is this the man we are to worship?” “No,” replied God.“This is a thief. He will steal a fruit from my tree.” So when Noah was born, the angels asked excitedly, “Is this the man we are to praise to high heaven?” Yet God replied, in consternation, “No, this is just an ordinary drunk.” When Abraham was born, they asked again, but God, gone gloomy, replied, “No, this one was not born circumcised and will only later convert to my faith. ”When Isaac was born, the angels asked God, still hopeful,“Is it this one?” “No,” replied God, severely displeased indeed. “This one loves his eldest son, who hates me. ” But when Jacob was born, they asked their question once more, and this time, the response was, “Yes, this is him.”

Several of the men working on the shed stop doing what they’re doing so they can stand in the doorway and eavesdrop on the women. Soon their heads are white with feathers: someone must have snatched up one of the baskets with a little too much zeal.