Jacob's Folly is centred around three individuals. Leslie Senzatimore, a family man and fireman living in the modern day USA; Masha, a 21 year old girl from an orthodox Jewish family. And in 18th Century France, Jacob: a Jewish-French peddler who is reincarnated, with an affinity to both Masha and Leslie.
The strands of plot are ingeniously woven together by Jacob's power to experience Leslie's and Masha's thoughts and feelings - this feels for the most part unobtrusive and natural, as we are carried along on the characters' exuberance and the strengths of their feelings.
We originally see Jacob as an innocent young man in France, trying his best to make his way and do the right thing in a hard world, where society doles out nothing but injustice to Jews, and in which Jews themselves oppress each other with the constraints of their own society.
The rich trappings and stark sufferings of the eighteenth century's physical world are vividly described, but so too are the intensity of inner conscience, and the peace and reassurance of the rituals that the orthodox Jews cling to. We see Jacob as he reacts to temptations and pressures, and the effect this has on him.
This is a world of temptation still alive to Masha in her modern orthodox Jewish community. Masha's desire to act on stage and the conflict this brings her into regarding her upbringing and religion is present at every turn, even in things such as wearing tight jeans and eating a cheeseburger. Miller really makes us feel for her heroine, without ever turning her into something winsome or artful.
The only problem with the rich, parallel lives of Masha and Jacob, is that Leslie loses out in comparison. The lives of Masha and Jacob are just that much more colourful. This is one of those novels following characters as they travel outwards from the extremes of repression, and every day experiences bloom at every turn into the wonderful and amazing, an enjoyable, energetic read.
I've only given 4 stars as I found the journey is a little bit more interesting than the outcome. Although the intricacy with which Miller reproduces the orthodox Jewish life is breathtaking and there's nothing wrong with a journey for the sake of it from time to time.