Personal Reflections on “A Delightful Compendium of Consolation,” By Burton Visotzky

Posted on February 23rd, 2009 | Filed under In Print: New Books

A Delightful Compendium of Consolation (Ben Yehuda Press, 2008) is a novel about story-tellers, and the truth and consequences of their stories. Karimah, a young Jewish woman who ran away from her restrictive family life in Old Cairo, travels the Hajj routes and the Mediterranean. She writes to her brother back home of her adventures, which are remarkably like those found in the Arabian Nights.

The great rabbinic leader Rabbi Nissim of Kairawan (now Tunisia) writes letters of consolation to Karimah's father, who has led him to believe that Karimah died. Nissim's letters retell the stories of the Talmud, the Jewish poetry of al-Andalus, and serve as a literary counterpoint to the tales Karimah spins.  Set in North Africa and the Mediterranean world of the 11th century, A Delightful Compendium of Consolation brings to life the Fatimid Empire and a golden moment in history when Jews and Muslims lived, traded, and told stories in harmony and prosperity.

The original Delightful Compendium of Consolation was composed in Arabic by Rabbi Nissim of Kairawan from Talmudic and Midrashic sources. It enjoyed a wide circulation in both Arabic and Hebrew versions throughout the Middle Ages. I created a fictional setting for the original work that is meant to be a tale of consolation for our own fractious times. A Delightful Compendium of Consolation is my ninth book and first novel.

Writing fiction was wildly different than anything I had previously written. After researching and outlining, my characters took on lives of their own. I ran to the computer each day to see what would happen. When I write scholarship, I always can rely on the crutches of footnotes. When I write popular Judaica, I need to walk without those crutches. But writing a work of historical fiction was learning to dance!

It is my hope that my book will open the door to an era when Jews and Muslims learned to live and trade together in harmony, despite their religious differences. It is these lessons of inter-religious dialogue and co-existence are increasingly urgent for today’s world.

 

 


7d755eefRabbi Burton L. Visotzky is the Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. In Spring, 2007 he served as Master Visiting Professor of Jewish Studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He was among the first cohort of Jews to join the Doha Conference for Religions Dialogue in Qatar in June, 2005. In July, 2008 he was among the first cohort of Jews attending the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, Spain, hosted by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Juan Carlos of Spain. He currently is in dialogue with the Kazakhstan Embassy to the United States. Dr. Visotzky is on the Board of Scholars and Practitioners of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue™.

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