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A Blessing on the Moon Hardcover – January 10, 1997

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Amazon.com Review

Chaim Skibelski rises from a pit of slaughter, leaving his dead townsmen and family behind, and returns to his home--now occupied by non-Jews. "In front of every house were piles of vows and promises, all in broken pieces. How I could see such things," he wonders, "I cannot tell you." So begins this magic-realist fiction, which is also a keen allegory of European Jews' war and postwar experience. "You think they can't kill us as often as they wish?" the narrator cries, and his distrust seems right. Though Chaim and the Rebbe are the only ones to have escaped the sudden roundup, they too, it soon becomes clear, are dead. The Rebbe has been transformed into a crow while Chaim's body seeps with blood and half of his face is missing. But if he's dead, why isn't he in the World to Come and why can some Poles and one German soldier see and hear him?

In his first novel, Joseph Skibell has created a fantasia both hideous and beautiful, a combination of mysticism, nightmare, and even humor. After Chaim and the Rebbe dig up other putrefied victims, the sorry, brave group moves painfully away from the village. Freezing days pass, perhaps years. "If you were the Rebbe, floating high above us, what you would see would be a great river of blood cutting a swath through the frozen winter hills." The author anatomizes the pilgrims' differences, cultural and religious, with love and wit. They are disputatious even in death--their debates threatening to overwhelm what holds them together. Though the phrase tour de force has been much abused, A Blessing on the Moon is exactly that: a daring fiction that shouldn't succeed on any level yet works on many.

From Library Journal

Chaim Skibelski is dead. Or is he? In the opening pages, he is shot and pushed into a pit along with his fellow Jews in a village in Poland. Chaim, accompanied by his rabbi in the form of a crow, escapes to wander among the living, unable to join the World To Come. His journey is divided into three parts. In the first, he revisits his old home, finding that a Polish family has taken over his business and personal effects. Here he meets Ola, a dying girl who can see him though her family can't. In the second part, he meets up with his old village and his family in a luxurious hotel that appears too good to be true. Finally, Chaim encounters Zalman and Kalman to complete a task involving the moon, the rabbi, and Skibelski himself. It is with this last step that the protagonist might finally find the peace that death should bring. Utterly different and surreal, this first novel takes an original approach to the Holocaust and leaves a lasting impression. For all literary collections.?Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., Ohio
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; 1st edition (January 10, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565121791
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565121799
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Possessing "a gifted, committed imagination" (New York Times), Joseph Skibell is the author of three novels, A Blessing on the Moon, The English Disease, A Curable Romantic, a collection of stories, My Father's Guitar & Other Imaginary Things (forthcoming), and a mythopoetic study entitled Six Memos From the Last Millennium: A Novelist Reads the Talmud (also forthcoming). He has received numerous awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Sami Rohr Award in Jewish Literature, and Story Magazine's Short Short-Story Prize. His work has been described as "daring in its ... honesty" (New York Times); "witty and profound" (Jerusalem Report); "laugh-outloud humorous" (Forward); "brave ... unafraid" (New York Journal of Books); "magical" (New Yorker); "high-energy, wild" (New Republic); and "wholly original" (JM Coetzee). Skibell's novels, stories and essays have been widely anthologized and translated, most recently into Ido and Chinese. He has written or translated essays for three books of photographs: Loli Kantor's Beyond the Forest, Neil Folberg's The Serpent's Chronicle, and Fred Stein: Paris New York. As the director of the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature from 2008 to 2015, he sang and played guitar onstage with both Margaret Atwood and Paul Simon, though not at the same time. The Winship Distinguished Research Professor in the Humanities at Emory University, Skibell has taught at the University of Wisconsin, Bar-Ilan University, and the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. In 2014-2015, he was a Senior Fellow at the Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry. (Photos by Laura Noel and Jeffrey Allen)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By wynm@INXPRESS.NET on September 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Skibell has written that rare book that I couldn't put down. Telling the story from the viewpoint of a Jew shot to death in the Holocaust who must roam the earth dead before going to the World-to-Come, "A Blessing on the Moon", while a story of the agony of the Jews in the Holocaust, is at times funny, sardonic, tender, horror-filled--there just aren't enough adjectives. This Christian found it to be more revealing to me of the Jewish mind, religion, and the atrocities committed against the Jews than any other book I've ever read. The only thing that made me sorry was my lack of understanding of some of the Yiddish words and expressions. However, I will read this book again and again, and recommend it to anybody who appreciates well-crafted writing.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sam Znaimer on December 27, 1998
Format: Hardcover
After his murder by the Nazis, Chaim Skibelski finds himself giddy and ecstatic, despite lying dead in a pit with all of his neighbours. He begins a fantastic quest, searching to be reunited with his family and community, and to find the peace of the World To Come. But in the meantime, he wanders "the earth like an audience at intermission waiting for the concert to resume , unaware that the musicians have long since departed for home ?". In this imaginative work, Joesph Skibell succeeds magnificently in conveying the tragic scope of the Holocaust. But he never succumbs to the sentimentality or self-righteousness of other holocaust memoirs. With humor, a fine ear for dialogue, and a piercing wit he weaves his allegory. Truly, I laughed and I cried - but never felt manipulated. This is a an important work in its own right and a major step forward in the breadth of artistic expression that the Holocaust has inspired.
A great book and a gripping page-turner, this novel will appeal to many who would not otherwise pick up anything from the Holocaust genre.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Christina E. Bublick on September 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Of the many Holocaust related books I have read, this is truly one of the most unique. Skibell requires that we use our imagination to enter a world beyond our earthly reach. Put yourself in my soul, imagine with me. Die needlessly, lose all your loved ones due to hate and prejudice and watch others greedily take over all you had. Scream silently. What would we do?
Skibell uses warm humor to depict the ugiliness and ignorance. We imagine, pain, yearn, cry out with him. How dear and wise is the Rebbe. How vulnerable is Chaim, even in death. Is this mystical or are our own dreams and nightmares close? Who would or could even dream anything as horrifying as the Holocaust? Who could imagine visualizing the aftermath? Skibell found a way to take us through it in a captivating, imaginary, witty, compassionate soulful way. In this, his first novel, he reaches deep to reveal such honesty and surrealism through 60 year old Chaim. Skibell's piece of imagination captures, grips, pulls, tugs, at the heart strings. The photographs, the reunion, the tenderness, the compassion, and mother's chicken soup.....all mixed in with blood, horrow, guns, graves, hatred and grief. Such is life!!! There is the magical and the morbid. We don't escape it. There was the Holocaust and we should never NEVER forget it!!! Not in life or in death. Through a good soul's spiritual journey and quest to find rest, and a lost moon...which too is helped to find it's home of rest in the sky...we learn. There are correlations between both. Through it all, we are to bless what we have learned and teach others. We are never to forget.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Gaudin on August 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
It is nothing short of magic to be swept inside a book. `A Blessing on the Moon' captured both my heart and my imagination. Starting from the point where most stories of the holocaust end, Skibell takes the reader into a spiritual world mixed with realism and fable, warm humor and the ugliness of hatred and ignorance. Within the first few lines of the book, the main character is killed. But Skibell does not end the character's life there. That is where the story is just beginning. Skibell takes the character and the reader on a journey of the soul. It's an exploration into compassion and grief, love and the depth of hate. I didn't want to put the book down and when I did, I found myself thinking about and worrying about the characters. They seemlessly worked their way inside me. Brilliant and insightful writing. Thank God for a book that is imaginative, intelligent and that offers hope in the worst of despair.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a fable on the Holocaust, the book reaches many levels of meaning. The living murdered Jews in the book, and the main character Chaim Skibelsky are testimony to the fact that we can die many deaths. Their wandering in the forest, frequently a symbol of confusion, their one night rescue in a fantasy hotel, and their ultimate redemption are powerful reminders that reality is not the only sense of life.
With the return of the lost moon, the sacred cycles of life for Jews can resume.
The details of the murder are devastating, and the life of the dead are told with great humor. For any one familiar with Hasidic tales, A Blessing on the Moon will be a contemporary masterful addition to that literature. For those uninitiated to its magic realism, you are in for a treat.
I recommend reading The Far Euphrates in conjunction with this book.
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