A love song that en­ter­tains, in­structs

THE SEA­SON OF GLASS Rahla Xenopou­los Loot.co.za (R201) Umuzi

Cape Times - - BOOKS - REVIEWER: JENNIFER CROCKER

IT starts with a poem by Yoko Ono, that ends with “… there is a sea­son that never passes/and that is The sea­son of glass”.

It starts in Ethiopia gen­er­a­tions ago, the story of twins that will be born to a queen on a night when the moon turns blood red. Into this war-torn ex­is­tence of Beta Is­rael, Gu­dit and Sis­say are born into a so­ci­ety that faces con­stant at­tack from the King­dom of the Ak­sum­ites who seek to rid them­selves of a strange peo­ple in their land.

Rahla Xenopou­los nar­rates this as­ton­ish­ing novel, in the be­gin­ning of a story older than time it­self, through the words of a rabbi, Zadoc, the chief re­li­gious leader of his peo­ple.

He recog­nises be­fore the twins are born that they are the lon­gawaited pos­si­bil­ity of a mes­sianic age.

His job is to teach them and his life is to love them. Through the story, Xenopou­los weaves a tale of the be­gin­ning of be­lief and long­ing.

As a child, Gu­dit asks ques­tions that slide qui­etly into the won­der­ful words wrought in The Sea­son of Glass, ques­tions about their past, ques­tions about God and the scrip­tures.

Her na­ture is to quest and to pon­der. Through us­ing an­cient texts and much re­search, crafted into an al­most sur­real mag­i­cal story of the past and the fu­ture, the au­thor draws the reader into the world at the time of its very be­gin­ning and lures us along with her as she tells the story of the twins who will be born to save the world.

To fix the world is no easy thing.

Part of the heal­ing of the world is con­tained in the view that the world must be “re­paired”.

For those of the Jewish faith, and for Beta Is­rael, the term Tikkun Olam is the be­lief that ad­her­ents of the Jewish faith are re­spon­si­ble for their own spir­i­tual, ma­te­rial and moral re­spon­si­bil­ity, but also for the well-be­ing and heal­ing of the world it­self.

It’s be­come a pop­u­lar no­tion in the mod­ern world among those of many dif­fer­ent be­liefs, or even non-be­lief, that we bear a re­spon­si­bil­ity to heal the world, to be­gin a task that we may never end.

Con­sider how pop­u­lar this quote has be­come: “It is not our re­spon­si­bil­ity to fin­ish the work of per­fect­ing the world, but you are not free to de­sist from it ei­ther,” as the words of Rabbi Tar­fon re­mind us.

Through the be­guil­ing story of the journey of Zadoc, Gu­dit and Sis­say, a won­der­ful story springs up that will span gen­er­a­tions and cross the world.

From an­cient Ethiopia and its hard stone-cov­ered land, to 1976 in Jo­han­nes­burg when a young wife, preg­nant, races against the blood­red land­scape of June 16 to reach her hus­band in Barag­wanath hos­pi­tal, to In­dia, through the Holo­caust and into a Dystopian world we travel on the wings of myth and hope.

Gu­dit is surrounded by the sweet­est of scents when she is born, or rather days af­ter her birth, when the fra­grance she ex­udes seeps through their vil­lage at night en­tranc­ing those who sleep and bring­ing a calm joy to the world.

But, as we know, and as one of the ma­jor themes in this book our ac­tions can change our alchemy. Gu­dit, faced with the slaugh­ter of those she loves will turn her hand to death, and her scent will di­min­ish.

She will be­gin to build a fortress of stones to be placed ev­ery time one of her peo­ple is slain and for ev­ery en­emy who Beta Is­rael kills.

Part of the won­der of this book is that the au­thor cre­ates a land­scape that is both phys­i­cal and hard, like the rocky moun­tains one sees to­day fly­ing over Ethiopia, while at the same time ten­der and as sweet as the most pas­sion­ate love af­fair.

Through­out The Sea­son of Glass, the reader is drawn through the ex­tra­or­di­nary gifted and mag­i­cal words used to tell a story that is part plot and part phi­los­o­phy; but al­ways com­pelling and beau­ti­ful.

The de­tail in the book is metic­u­lous in its re­search, and it is in­ter­est­ing that Xenopou­los thanks, among oth­ers, her Face­book friends “PEO­PLE OF THE BOOK who made the re­search of this book real”.

Of course, if you asked most peo­ple if they wanted to read an his­tor­i­cally very well-re­searched book about the his­tory of Beta Is­rael, the Soweto Up­ris­ings, Aus­tria just be­fore the out­break of World War II, and a lot of ref­er­ences to an­cient be­liefs, they would prob­a­bly not rush to snatch the book from your hands. But put all of this into the hands of an ex­tremely tal­ented au­thor and a wo­man of wild wis­dom and love that spills out of her nov­els and you have a book that both en­ter­tains and in­structs.

This is not a ser­mon, it is a love song.

It is the story about that which may save us, even as we try to save oth­ers.

It’s about the pos­si­bil­ity that we are car­ried in the womb know­ing the whole of hu­man his­tory, but that an an­gel touches us above our top lips as we are born into this world and makes us for­get. It’s about what would hap­pen if a child was born into the world over and over again to try to re­pair it, who has not been al­lowed to for­get the his­tory of humanity and be­yond.

The Sea­son of Glass is a mas­sive book, writ­ten with skill and beauty. It turns the reader to look again at a world and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of re­demp­tive love, as well as the hor­ror of humanity when it turns on it­self.

The love that may sus­tain, or may break us. The scale of the his­tory con­tained in The Sea­son of Glass and the power of the nar­ra­tive are pack­aged as a lit­er­ary gift to the world.

A tour de force of a story that will have you en­thralled from be­gin­ning to end. Or won­der­ing whether there is a be­gin­ning or an end. Pure bril­liance cap­tured as a won­der­ful read.

It is not a ser­mon, it is a love song. It is the story about that which may save us.

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