Whether he’s writing about Judaism and Buddhism or prayer and dreams, Kamenetz’s mission is to discern connections. In his most delving book, he traces the hidden links between a literary nineteenth-century Hasidic rabbi and a quintessential modern secular Jewish writer. Rabbi Nachman, a “Jewish shaman” and a contemporary of the Brothers Grimm, smuggled the kabbalah into fiction to extend the reach of his teachings. Kafka, concerned about the spiritual cost of modernity, “nourished himself with the tales of Hasidic rebbes.” Both men were ascetics; both died young of tuberculosis; both questioned “the seeming absence of divine justice”; and both asked trusted intimates to burn their work after their deaths. Kamenetz’s dramatic and revelatory double portrait is built on a solid foundation of elegantly explicated Jewish thought and deepened by the story of his journey to Ukraine to visit Rabbi Nachman’s grave. Here is a whole new slant on Kafka, a unique and affecting portrait of a creative holy man, and a radiant inquiry in celebration of how both sacred texts and great literature are open to “infinite interpretation.” --Donna Seaman
Praise for Burnt Books
“The lives, works, and achievements of Franz Kafka of Prague and the far-less-well-known nineteenth-century Jewish mystic Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav would seem at first glance to have nothing in common. It is only the first of the many virtues of this engrossing and wonderful book by Rodger Kamenetz, a highly experienced and masterful writer on Jewish mysticism, that the truly eerie parallels between their lives, drives, and visions become clear.”
—The Washington Times
“Kamenetz’s dramatic and revelatory double portrait is built on a solid foundation of elegantly explicated Jewish thought and deepened by the story of his journey to Ukraine to visit Rabbi Nachman’s grate. Here is a whole new slant on Kafka, a unique and affecting portrait of a creative holy man, and a radiant inquiry in celebration of how both sacred texts and great literature are open to ‘infinite interpretation.’ ”—Booklist
“Two yearning souls face each other and touch in this remarkable encounter, both deeply imagined and fastidiously researched. And when, forever questing, Rodger Kamenetz adds his own journey to the mix, what he gives us is so fascinating I read it hungrily. Kamenetz makes a case for the kinship of these brother storytellers that is more than irresistible: it feels inevitable.”
—Rosellen Brown, author of Civil Wars
Praise for The Jew in the Lotus
"A book for anyone who feels the narrowness of a wholly secular life or who wonders about the fate of esoteric spiritual traditions in a world that seems bent on destroying or vulgarzing them. It is a narrative about an extraordinary moment in history, of course, but it is also the chronicle of Rodger Kamenetz's discovery of what he says is a more nourishing Judaism."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Splendidly written from beginning to end, this is a book that might and should be read for the simple pleasure of watching an honest intellect confront its own image . . . A book that should be read and discussed by those interested in the marvelous complexity and resilience of the human soul."
—New Orleans Times-Picayune