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On September 8th, 2001, I was in Mantova, Italy for the Festival Litteratura. Between engagements, on a bicycle to see this medieval city, I noticed a poster for a "qabala" exhibit. I tried following these strangely intermittent signs, came upon dead ends, retraced my steps, and tried again, an experience out of a Borges story. The next day, directions in hand, I got to see the works of renowned Kabbalists whose names I'd known since childhood, whose complex of ideas were bound up in the rituals and customs of the Hasidic life I'd lived, and in the novel I was then writing. On my way out, I purchased the catalog to the exhibition and read about the Mantova library's priceless collection. So when at dinner my Italian publisher asked whether there was anything I wanted to see or do, an offer they made each of their participating authors, I was prepared. But the library was under construction, the collection locked in a vault. Borges again. Later that day, the phone rang. The mayor of Mantova would meet us at the vault with the key.
I arrived at Newark Airport late evening, in time to teach my 9 a.m. craft class at Sarah Lawrence. In the morning, I drove up the Henry Hudson. It was a brilliantly blue fall day, first day of classes. On the radio, the traffic report was interrupted for a story about a plane accident.
Five minutes into the session, cell phones started ringing. Then came a knock at the door. Classes were cancelled. The city shut down. I couldn't go home. On the lumpy sofa in the attic office of Sarah Lawrence's Writing Program, I tried sleeping off my jet lag, but I couldn't bring myself to turn off the radio. Announcers repeated what they knew more times than I could count, rehearsing the blow-by-blow of an event no one understood. Yet.
In the weeks that followed Americans rallied around the flag, a nationalism that both soothed and frightened simultaneously. With this surge came, as it usually does, rage and racism and the demonization of the other. American Muslims became afraid. And then, in November, a strange phenom emerged: an American-born, American-bred Taliban. The fury that John Walker Lindh's story elicited was extreme, and in that environment he didn't have a chance. Lindh wasn't the only one of these strange hybrids, both American and Taliban. Yasir Hamdi, Adam Gadahn and others emerged later.
The journeys of these young men struck me as variations on the story I was then finishing. The protagonist of The Seventh Beggar becomes interested in Gnostic meditations on the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), in which Jesus too is said to have engaged, as a way to tap into higher powers. Lindh too was an idealistic seeker, and his tragedy, an accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, haunted me.
Americans were asking how an educated young man from a well-to-do family could end up fighting a jihad that had nothing to do with his family or his country, and journalists tried answering them. The more interesting question, it seemed to me, was not HOW and WHAT, but WHY, E. M. Forster’s differentiation between story and plot. And for exploring questions of causality, the novel is the perfect form.(Photo © Christine Pabst)
I found this book for sale for one dollar at the Dollar General store nearby.
After reading it all I can say is that I don't mind wasting one dollar, but I'll never get back... Read more
Frankly, I was not "buying" the character of the protagonist. He lacked the motivation necessary to make me believe he was doing what he did. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Likes-many-genres
Poor character development and very disjointed. She did not know how to end the story so she just quit writing. Do not waste your money on this book.Published 23 months ago by Brian
I was extremely caught up in this book and with the characters, which Abraham develops beautifully. While it may not be a question most people have thought to ask, Abraham gives us... Read morePublished on May 9, 2012 by R
I was very excited to read this book when I first discovered it. I am impressed with Pearl Abraham's effort, education, experience and ability to composite. Read morePublished on May 29, 2011 by Books McGulligan
I gave this a 2 because I thought that the entire end was really bad. It fell into pure chaos and then, plonk, off the cliff. No ending! Read more
One of my all time favorites - a fascinating study of a developing mind and philosophy. I used to work with adolescents and found so many of them to be wonderfully insightful... Read morePublished on October 24, 2010 by Buddha Baby
An incredible experience, the best read in a long time. Of course I expected it to be thought provoking. Read morePublished on September 2, 2010 by Ingrid Glorie (Netherlands)
I liked the idea behind this novel -- what would lead a privileged young American to join the Taliban? -- much more than the novel itself. Read morePublished on August 18, 2010 by common reader