Rachel Litchenstein's account of a search into the clues left behind by the mysterious David Rodinsky is much more than an attempt at a detective-type biography of an enigma. Much more compelling is the way Litchenstein herself has invited the enigma into her own personal search for meaning and healing in her life and Jewish culture.
Her account, written in such clear and evocative prose is imbued with a kind of honesty that is both captivating and rare. Her voice speaks out directly to a generation operating in a culture where irony and supposed distance from culture is all-pervasive, cutting through to what is truly important, namely real people and their experiences, in terms of history, culture and spirituality.
Rachel treats all her 'characters', whether they be her interviewees and advisers during the trail of discovery, or the ghosts of Rodinsky and his family, with immense respect. She not only understands, but embraces the idea that by drawing the stories out, she necessarily incorporates her own into theirs and vice versa. Her energy and tenacity as the story unfolds is very compelling. She also seems to be incredibly 'lucky' during her search, where so many coincidences and chance meetings take on a fateful, spiritual meaning of their own.
It's an idiosyncratic, personal journey through the Jewish East End, Israel and Poland. But the story and approach is so strong that it manages to transcend specific culture in its search for meaning in what it is to be human.
It left me feeling inspired, affirmed and thankful that there are people such as Rachel who are willing to take on the responsibility of being a 'cultural caretaker' for all of our sakes.