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The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century Hardcover – March 10, 2005
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4-8–Benjamin, a Spanish Jew, left his native town of Tudela in 1159 to embark on a 14-year journey across the Middle East. His Book of Travels, written in Hebrew, recounts his grueling, often-dangerous journey through what is modern-day France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt. Encounters with warring Crusaders and Muslims, rapacious pirates, and bandits added to his hardships. Shulevitz re-creates this epic journey in a picture book of epic proportions, adapting Benjamin's account into a detailed, first-person narrative, accompanied by large, ambitious illustrations that evoke the landscapes, people, architecture, and history of the places that Benjamin saw. Darker, freer, and more impressionistic than Shulevitz's familiar work, the art is often indebted to medieval manuscript painting and Persian miniatures. Meticulously researched, with a long bibliography, lengthy author's note, and brief insets containing information that complements Benjamin's descriptions, this oversize picture book is obviously a labor of love. Wherever he went, Benjamin visited Jewish communities. Shulevitz's retelling stands as a testimony to the history, wisdom, and fortitude of those medieval Jews living precariously under Christian or Muslim rule. Both art and text will help readers imagine life during that time and, perhaps, provide a context for the contemporary turmoil in the lands Benjamin visited so long ago.–Margaret A. Chang, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Gr. 4-7. At first blush, the story of a bona fide twelfth-century Jewish wanderer might not seem the stuff of picture books, even for older readers. But this is so uniquely rendered that it proves, along with other recently published titles, that outstanding execution can draw readers to almost any subject. This fictional account follows Benjamin on a 14-year trip, which takes him from his home in Spain to historic cities of the ancient world: Rome, Babylon, Baghdad, and Jerusalem, among others. Illness, hunger, thirst, thieves, and assassins plague the journey. Yet there are also wonderful adventures, mystical stories, and fabulous sights, such as the pyramids. Told in an expansive first-person narrative, the book is filled with a bazaar's worth of detail, with unobtrusive sidebars explaining text references. In an extensive author's note, Shulevitz discusses how, beginning with Benjamin's actual diary in the original Hebrew, he faced the task of making the mostly factual reporting appealing by adding incidents found in other books. An extensive bibliography lists his sources, but, unfortunately, there are no specifics about the experiences he took from them. It's no surprise that Shulevitz, a Caldecott winner, provides splendid illustrations, but he outdoes himself here. The richly painted scenes, which vary in style and color according to their location, are highlighted by collage accents. Together with the evocative text, they capture the sweep of mysterious and faraway places. For other stories of intrepid travelers, see the adjacent Read-alikes column. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Twenty-first century children are accustomed to a wide array of modern conveniences. Being able to imagine the primitive lifestyle of the Middle Ages is enhanced by the reading of first-hand accounts. Unfortunately, few pertinent documents have survived. Benjamin’s Hebrew account is among the most famous. Benjamin introduced his contemporaries to some places that were previously unknown while maintaining a nonchalant voice. These original writings are usually reserved for historians and adult history buffs.
Using extensive research funded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Uri combined many of the factual elements of Benjamin’s Hebrew writings with a fictionalized voice. Benjamin’s words and thoughts allow modern readers to visualize the perils of traveling during this turbulent time while learning about many historical events.
Modern day adventurers have the luxury of traveling by plane, modern railroad systems, and via luxury cruise ships. Benjamin’s bare bones land treks were accomplished by traveling by foot and in wagons. Sea travel was faster, but limited to rudimentary barges and small boats. Pirates, diseases, and inclement weather were major concerns.
In the beginning of the book, Uri provides a map of Benjamin’s travels. This illustration reveals Benjamin’s amazing accomplishments. He left his home in Spain and bravely explored Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Persia, China, and Egypt before he made his way back to Tudela, Spain.
Uri skillfully added many facts that provided a colorful and thought provoking overview of medieval life. He simultaneously put different events and places into historical perspective. Readers young and old will be inspired to want to learn more about the interactions between Christian Crusaders and Muslims. The role of the Assassins or Hashishin is likewise a noteworthy aspect of medieval history.
Benjamin’s journey is seen through the eyes of a European Jew. Thus, his perceptions are based on a Jewish mindset that ties each place to Jewish history and survival. Uri’s illustrations add to the understanding of Benjamin’s journey. The vibrant colors help to engage the reader. The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century would be the perfect book to share with anyone who is interested in the Middle Ages, notable European sites, and Jewish history.
Book arrive in excellent condition and has an honored place in the family library.