The Mystics of Mile End
By: Sigal Samuel
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
The Meyer family lives in Mile End, home to a mashup of hipsters and Hasidic Jews, where down the street crazy Mr. Katz is building a tree out of plucked leaves, toilet paper rolls, and dental floss. When David, a skeptical professor of religion, is diagnosed with an unusual heart murmur, he becomes convinced that his heart is whispering divine secrets.
But when David’s frenzied attempts to ascend the Tree of Life lead to tragedy, his daughter Samara, who abruptly abandoned religion years earlier, believes it is up to her to finish what she started. As Samara’s brother documents her increasingly strange behaviour, it falls to next-door neighbour and Holocaust survivor Chaim Glassman to shatter the silence that divides the members of the Meyer family. But can he break through to them in time?
I first heard of this novel from Tanya @ 52 books or bust when she posted her review of the novel. She enjoyed the novel and the premise really intrigued me so I kept a lookout for it 🙂
The Mystics of Mile End was a fantastic read from the start, spanning years and following the Meyer family and the residents of Mile End. The book is divided up to four parts, each part following each Meyer’s POV and their experiences and feelings. The Meyer family is pretty fractured as a result of the death of the matriarch, leaving David remote from his two children, Samara and Lev. But this fracture isn’t just the result of grief and mourning, but also from religion; David is a sceptic, an atheist, and his feelings towards Judaism left Samara and Lev hiding–at least at first–their own curiosity and steps towards embracing their faith. Without going into too much detail though, experiences during their childhood left one sibling turning away from religion and the other embracing it completely.
Thus, following each of the family member’s POV parts, it’s interesting to see just how separated they are from each other and yet climbing the mystical Tree of Life in their own way. Their isolation is palpable and their internal struggles with religion, their lives, with each other, with the world is fascinating and their approaches making them fully-realised characters. I couldn’t put the book down; even when one of the characters is almost blindly self-destructing and destroying every relationship they have, I was rooting for them to pull through, to find each other again. And of course the mystical elements of Hasidic Judaism was really interesting to learn more about.
Overall, The Mystics of Mile End was a riveting read about family and life and religion. It’s a fantastic debut novel, each character’s POV had such a distinct voice, I was especially impressed with Lev’s POV as it took place when he was twelve years old and had that childish perspective that rung true. I really cared about these characters and the community. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a novel about families (dysfunctional or otherwise), great characterisations, and of course some new Canadian literature to check out 😉