Synopses & Reviews
1. Why do you suppose this book is titled A Blessing on the Moon? What is the significance of the moon?
2. Chaim's adventures all take place in the afterlife and he believes in the World to Come. What is the World to Come and how does his belief affect his journey?
3. What can a character who's dead accomplish in a novel that a comparable character who's living cannot?
4. Chaim and Ola have an unusual relationship. Describe the nature of that relationship and what it means to each of them.
5. Chaim meets a man who identifies himself as the soldier who shot him. At one point Chaim says to him, I could suffocate you! Instead he helps him. Why does Chaim take care of him?
6. On page 196, Chaim wishes for something momentous, something extravagant, something along the lines of Ola's ascension but without the gaudy theatricals. Does he get his wish? Compare the appearance of Jesus and Mary to Chaim's vision at the end of the book.
7. Is the Ida Kaminski who is registered at the Hotel Amfortas Chaim's first wife, or another Ida Kaminski? Why do you think the author chooses not to answer this question in the narrative?
8. In spite of everything that has happened to him, Chaim seems to keep his faith in God. In the last part of Chaim's journey, however, he at first resists accompanying the two Hasids in their search for the moon. Is this because he has lost his faith or does he hold on to his belief to the end of the book?
9. How does part one of the book address the personal; part two, the collective; and part three, the cosmic or universal?
10. Many novelistic treatments of the Holocaust have been published over the years. How do the works of first generation survivors contrast with the Holocaust literature now being published by the new, younger generation of writers?
Recommended Reading from Joseph Skibell
So many important Jewish books are now available in English, paring down a list to recommend was not an easy task. But here are a few remarkable books of stories, philosophy, and history from the Jewish tradition:
In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov, translated and edited by Dan Ben-Amos and Jerome R. Mintz
Meeting with Remarkable Souls: Legends of the Baal Shem Tov, by Eliahu Klein
Nine Gates to the Chasidic Mysteries, by Jiri Langer
To Heal the Soul: The Spiritual Journal of a Chasidic Rebbe, by Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, translated and edited by Yehoshua Starrett.
Shivitti: A Vision, by Ka-Tzetnik 135633
The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy: A Jewish Theology on Human Relationships, by Gershon Winkler with Lakme Batya Elior
Jewish Views of the Afterlife, by Simcha Paull Raphael
9½ Mystics: The Kabbala Today, by Herbert Weiner
The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism, collected and translated by Daniel C. Matt
"Brilliant . . . Astonishing." The Boston Globe
"Startlingly original . . . Recalls the dark, hallucinatory world of Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird while at the same time surpassing it." The Washington Post
"A compelling tour de force, a surreal but thoroughly accessible page-turner." Houston Chronicle
"As magical as it is macabre." The New Yorker
When Chaim Skibelski is killed along with the other Jewish citizens of a small Polish town, his story is just beginning. Now a ghost, Chaim wanders the countryside, often accompanied by his rabbi, who has turned into a crow. He visits his home, now occupied by a Polish family whose dying daughter is the only one who can see him. He meets a talkative head that belongs to the soldier who may have shot him. He visits a grand hotel that caters to the dead with mysterious comforts -- and helps two eccentric holy men search for the fallen moon. This afterlife is a remarkable journey, a long way from a peaceful eternity...and this stunning novel is one of the most highly praised and honored literary efforts of the year.
Joseph Skibell's magical tale about the Holocaust--a fable inspired by fact--received unanimous nationwide acclaim when first published in 1997.
At the center of A Blessing on the Moon is Chaim Skibelski. Death is merely the beginning of Chaim's troubles. In the opening pages, he is shot along with the other Jews of his small Polish village. But instead of resting peacefully in the World to Come, Chaim, for reasons unclear to him, is left to wander the earth, accompanied by his rabbi, who has taken the form of a talking crow. Chaim's afterlife journey is filled with extraordinary encounters whose consequences are far greater than he realizes.
Not since art Spiegelman's Maus has a work so powerfully evoked one of the darkest moments of the twentieth century with such daring originality.
About the Author
Joseph Skibell is the author of two previous novels, A Blessing on the Moon and The English Disease. He has received a Halls Fiction Fellowship, a Michener Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, among other awards. He teaches at Emory University and is the director of the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature.