A love song that entertains, instructs
THE SEASON OF GLASS Rahla Xenopoulos Loot.co.za (R201) Umuzi
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.