Synopsis: from the dust jacket

In Chaim Potok's extraordinary narrative--large, panoramic, rich with brilliant and moving detail--the 4,000 year history of the Jews unfolds, written by the man most perfectly suited to tell the story to our generation. Every page bears the hallmark of this scholar-novelist, this born storyteller whose own life has been steeped in the traditions, learning, and spirit of his people. . .

Here is a history alive with the sweep and turbulence of the centuries, carrying us from the remote past to our own day, showing us the Jewish people within the succession of civilizations that both harbored and oppressed them--Mesopotamia and Egypt, Greece and Rome, Islam, medieval Christendom, modern secular society--exploiting, tormenting, all too frequently slaughtering the Jews, yet making use of their gifts, their wisdoms, their skills and strengths, and paradoxically helping to create their unique and ineffaceable identity.

What gives Wanderings its unique resonance and depth is that Potok reveals the complexity and richness of this Jewish identity by revealing--in a triumph of historical synthesis--the essential nature of each of the great cultures with which Jewish life and the Jewish intellect had been intertwined. The very essence of these civilizations--ancient and modern, Eastern and Western--is captured in Potok's text and reflected in the beautiful reproductions, scores of them in full color, that illustrate almost every page--wall paintings from Ur, golden objects from Canaan, Jewish glass and tombstone statuary from ancient Rome, mosaics, woodcuts, Arabian and Phoenician ivories, medieval miniatures, illustrated Bibles, amulets against evil spirits, paintings by Rembrandt to Ben Shahn, photographs (Mycenaean ruins, Masada, the founding of Tel-Aviv, the arrival of immigrants in the new world), and maps, from a Byzantine mosaic of Jerusalem to the Jewish population of the world today.

This is a history pulsing with great events and great men: kings and judges, patriarchs and prophets, and warriors. . .the boy Moses raised as a prince, becoming a fugitive outlaw, a herdsman in the desert, then a man possessed by a vision. . .Saul, the strong and troubled warrior king. . .the strange, near-mad Ezekiel, skulking and howling through the cities of Babylon. . .Jewish scholars, philosophers, poets, and physicians during the brief golden flowering of Cordova. . .the rabbis and merchants of Europe's dark ages. . .the Inquisition, the plagues, the persecutions. . .whole peoples in motion across continents. . .the sunlit moments of the Enlightenment. . .the great exodus from Europe and the past, to America and its promise. . .and, in our own time, both the death camps and the triumph of nationhood achieved at last. . .the longed-for return to Eretz Israel.

And throughout this dramatic unfolding, Potok holds us fascinated by his multiplicity of fresh and lively insights--letting us, for example, see the advent of Christianity from a Jewish perspective (Jesus as Joshua, "the apocalyptic Pharisee"). . .exploring such subtleties as the shaping of two greatly divergent Jewish societies: the Sephardim, touched by the worldliness, warmth, and color of Arabic Spain, then shattered and dispersed; the Ashkenazim in the world of church bells, warring kings and counts, murderous peasants, driven into the primitive borderlands of central Europe and Russia. Potok has succeeded in giving us the infinite variety of Jewish life, the Jewish fate in many eras and places, and, at the same time, a grand vision of the oneness--the whole--of Jewish history.

Wanderings is grounded in meticulous scholarship; Potok draws on numerous sources, from the Bible itself to the most recent findings of archaeologists; from the writings of the ancient scribes, poets, and anonymous chroniclers to the latest historical research. But beyond its authority, beyond even its dramatic excitement, the book's power to stir us arises from its author's deep, and deeply felt, commitment to the story he tells. It is a magnificent story. And Chaim Potok's telling of it is a magnificent achievement.

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