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In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist [Paperback]

Ruchama King Feuerman

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Book Description

7 Aug 2014

In this 2013 National Jewish Book Award Finalist, an eczema-riddled Lower East Side haberdasher, Isaac Markowitz, moves to Israel to repair  his broken heart and becomes, much to his own surprise, the assistant to a famous old rabbi who daily dispenses wisdom (and soup) to the troubled souls who wash up in his courtyard. It is there that he meets the flame-haired Tamar, a newly religious young American hipster on a mission to live a spiritual life with a spiritual man. Into both of their lives comes Mustafa, a devout Muslim, deformed at birth, a janitor who works on the Temple Mount, holy to both Muslims and Jews. When Mustafa finds an ancient shard of pottery that may date back to the first temple, he brings it to Isaac in friendship.  That gesture sets in motion a series of events that land Isaac in  the company of Israel's worst criminal riff raff, put Mustafa in mortal danger, and Tamar trying to save them both.

As these characters - immigrants and natives; Muslim and Jewish; prophets and lost souls - move through their world, they are never sure if they will fall prey to the cruel tricks of luck or be sheltered by a higher power.

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The best novel I read all year.

(Barton Swaim, The Wall Street Journal)

a….testament to the power of the imagination…a rare talent.

(Beth Kissileff, Jerusalem Post)

It’s a sophisticated and engaging book. Moreover, it treats an endlessly tangled topic—relations between Palestinian Arabs and Jews—with intelligence and originality. The narration seamlessly moves between Isaac and Mustafa, and the author brings the work’s interwoven stories to a brilliant climactic end….a manifestly terrific novel.

(The Wall Street Journal)

Feuerman demonstrates no small amount of moxie. She provides us with a rather unusual fictional twist on the hackneyed subject of Arab-Jewish relations in the complex reality of Jerusalem….the writing is punchy and often gritty, compassionate without being sentimental. Writers often imbue Jerusalem with a mystical, mysterious aura….Feuerman’s eye, in contrast, tends here toward the earthy and does not shy away from the less aesthetic sides of life….Feuerman has a talent for striking images and innovative language that, unlike in some writing, does not obstruct the reading but rather does what it should—add literary pleasure….In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is ultimately a story of love transcending deformity, both inner and outer. It is a book that speaks of seeing beyond appearances…

(Yael Unterman, Ha’aretz)

Feuerman is certainly worthy of attention. Her first novel, Seven Blessings, was published by St. Martin’s Press, and one reviewer hailed her as the “Jewish Jane Austen.” Her new book is more nearly a thriller, although it is, like her earlier work, much concerned with romantic intrigue, too….One of the great pleasures of her novel, in fact, is her rich and vivid evocation of contemporary Jerusalem, and especially the people and places in Jerusalem that would not be out of place in a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer…Along the way, Feuerman displays a sharp eye for the rhythms of real life in Jerusalem…Here the author shows that she may be the Jewish Jane Austen, but she is also something of a Jewish Graham Greene.

(Jonathan Kirsch, Jewish Journal)

In Ruchama King Feuerman’s second novel, she creates a compelling world within a world in Jerusalem. She conveys spiritual longings and the yearnings for human connection, all informed by the heavenly city and its mysteries.

(Sandee Brawarsky, Jewish Woman Magazine)

The unlikely friendship of an intellectual New York Jew and a working-class Jerusalem Arab drives Feuerman’s evocative second novel…This friendship is all the more unlikely because it occurs in the divided city of Jerusalem… The city itself emerges as a character: its climate and topography are depicted with a lyricism that contrasts with the area’s political tension. [The] story unfolds as a belated coming-of-age tale….[written in a] quiet, lovely mood.

(Publishers Weekly)

A beautiful novel that coils the history and mystery of Jerusalem into a private and vivid tale of personal dignity, ownership, love—and the overlap of all three, the space we call the soul.

(Dara Horn)

n the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is a beautifully written, emotionally evocative novel enriched by fascinating characters and an unparalleled portrait of the magical city that is Jerusalem.

(Jonathan Kellerman)

Absorbing, fascinating, intriguing and more, written by a creative storyteller with an amazing skill for originality.

(Sybil Kaplan, The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle)

In her irresistible novel In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, Ruchama King Feuerman writes with such contagious affection for her characters that they’re likely to supplant your own family until you finish the book. Her Jerusalem, riven though it is by tensions between the sacred and profane, remains an intoxicating place, where diffident lovers inhabit an atmosphere as romantically charged as “The Song of Songs.”

(Steve Stern, author of The Wedding Jester)

How do people get along when they have been taught they can’t? Who do ancient artifacts belong to—the person who unearths them or the people who valued them in the past? This is just one of the story lines in this lively, witty, and entertaining novel. Ruchama King writes with a light touch and great insight. This book is hard to put down.

(Alice Elliott Dark)

The new New York Review of Books e-book plumbs the depths of men and women, of Israelis and Arabs, and finds both common ground and common fear. The tour through their hearts and minds, particularly Isaac’s and Mustafa’s, makes for some of the most deeply interesting, challenging reading of the year….It’s a short book, but a densely packed one with moments worth re-reading as you go.


Romantic, suspenseful and insightful.

(Hadassah Magazine)

...[a] beguiling novel...Feuerman writes with grace and wit...'In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist' is as wise as it is heartfelt.

(Jewish Week)

A delicate balance of courtship tale and thriller. . . beautifully detailed and vivid. . . I strongly recommend it.

(Rebecca Stumpf, Dallas Morning News)

About the Author

RUCHAMA KING FEUERMAN was born in Nashville, grew up in Virginia and Maryland, and when she was seventeen, bought a one-way ticket to Israel to seek her spiritual fortune. Her mother hails from Casablanca where her family lived for centuries. Seven Blessings (St. Martin’s Press), her celebrated first novel about match-making, earned her the praise of The New York Times and the Dallas Morning News, and Kirkus Reviews dubbed Feuerman the “Jewish Jane Austen.” She wrote her second novel, In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, with the help of grants from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation and New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her stories and essays have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, and she is a winner of the 2012 Moment Magazine Short Fiction Prize, selected by the novelist Walter Mosley.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  49 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "As deliciously satisfying, rich and authentic as a fresh Jerusalem pita still warm from the bakery." 26 Dec 2013
By Carol Levin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is an engaging, beautifully crafted and courageous novel that shatters stereotypes, going beyond the geopolitical tension of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to reveal the internal struggles and compassion of the heart. Against this backdrop is a multi-layered story of friendship between a lonely Arab janitor -- afflicted with a crooked neck and abandoned by his family -- and a single Jewish man who leaves his unfulfilling life in New York and finds his way as the assistant to a rabbi with “a gift for analyzing difficulties of the soul.”

The story deepens with both intrigue as the Jerusalem police tail Isaac – he accepted as a gift a rare antiquity from the Temple Mount, thereby endangering the State of Israel -- and a budding romance between Isaac and the beautifully quirky Tamar. As in her previous novel, Seven Blessings, Feuerman has a gift for capturing the pulse of Jerusalem in the details, from riding the buses and blind dating at a hotel lobby to buying vegetables in the souk. Here, her writing soars in the deep compassion she evokes for the broken supplicants who drift into the courtyard of the kabbalist’s cottage waiting their turn for his life-sustaining words.

The poignant and sometimes hilarious descriptions -- a man weeping behind his briefcase, a barren midwife, an old lady in pink biker shorts -- suggest that everyone needs fixing and spiritual sustenance in some way or other. Feuerman beautifully captures the transformative power of a kind word spoken when Isaac tells the lonely Mustafa he is doing holy work by keeping the Temple Mount clean. He is lifted by his newfound dignity.

Feuerman weaves a multiplicity of themes into a story as deliciously satisfying, rich and authentic as a fresh Jerusalem pita still warm from the bakery.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite novel of the year so far 17 Sep 2013
By Cider drinker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
A little bit Dickens, a little bit I.B. Singer, but really sui generis. I've rarely read a story whose characters have lived on so strongly in my imagination, so that i wonder what they're up to now. It's a kind, generous, funny and extraordinarily moving novel, filled with the pain and sweetness of being human. Please read it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical 30 Sep 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A coming-of-age tale, a love story, a political page turner. Like the modern-day Jerusalem where it's set, In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist is full of unexpected meetings, misunderstandings, beauty and redemption. The characters stay with you long after you've finished reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fable of fables 6 Jan 2014
By D - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Amazing story written beautifully. I have never read anything like it. By the time I got toward the end I realized how much I was enjoying it. The characters in the beginning seemed rather thin. Simpletons was the word I kept thinking. They were good for storytelling and fables but had little depth. Not sure how the author did it, but by the end of the book the characters were as rich and complete as any I could imagine.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful novel about real people 9 Nov 2013
By Barry Moss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Yes, the writing is superb: Ruchama Feuerman's physical and psychological observations are deft, penetrating, original. And her sentences are perfectly crafted. But what stands out for me in this novel is the author's genuine love for humanity. The characters aren't puppets manipulated for the sake of a plot or some well-meaning message. The characters, especially Isaac and Mustafa, hold a reader's interest because they hold the author's interest. She cares about them, and that concern makes their every move and thought important to the reader. More, the author's compassion really creates the tone of the book. The whole book seems to hum like a vibrating cello string -- a beautiful, evocative sound. This cynical reader was surprised to feel his heart humming in response.
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