13 Jul The Golden Bell by Robert L Stone
A poetic insight into the life of a great Hebrew poet
This fictionalised story of one of the greatest Hebrew poets and philosophers takes us back to eleventh century Spain, when young Yehuda ben Shmuel haLevi begins his apprenticeship in medicine in the city of Cordoba.
There he impresses the Rabbis with his poetic prowess, and Deborah, spirited daughter of his patron Rab Abraham, with his gentle manners and steadfast approach.
We follow him through life as he moves from Spanish city to Spanish city, building on his reputation for poetry and philosophy, and working as a doctor for both Muslim and Christian royalty, in a time of political and religious turbulence.
He and Deborah build a family life, but the yearning in his soul pulls him on to keep pushing the boundaries of his knowledge and wisdom – which could prove dangerous for him and his family. Can he avoid the fate of so many so-called apostates?
The writing reflects the rich diversity of medieval Spanish society
This is a beautifully written story exploring the life of a man determined to devote himself to a higher plane, and this is reflected in the philosophical and poetic tone of the narrative, with quotes from the poets, philosophers, Hebrew scriptures and the Q’oran on nearly every page, as Yehuda and his peers grapple with their desire to be ever closer to an understanding of the divine.
The writing reflects the rich diversity of the society in which Yehuda lives, where Jews, Muslims and Christians have learned to live together, and learn from each other. But there is always the threat that religious zeal will spill over into violence, which makes for a suspenseful story.
I have to put my hands up and admit that a lot of the philosophy went right over my head, but I loved all the descriptive writing that immersed me as the reader into eleventh century Spain. Writer Robert L Stone evokes the atmosphere of a multicultural society with wonderful descriptions of palaces and modest homes, of rose sherbets and olive oil, pomegranates and fresh flowers, rolls of silk and Persian rugs, turbaned Muslim soldiers and soberly-clad Hebrew scholars.
I particularly enjoyed the cosy ordinariness of Yehuda and Deborah’s domestic life as they embarked on marriage and raising their family, their loving relationship with each other and their daughter, and their kind and caring approach to friends, family and servants alike.
I don’t think this book is for everyone – you would have to really love history and be keen to learn more about Judaism and Islam to get the very most out of it, but if you do choose to dip in, it is a fascinating and immersive account of a man who was a legend in his own lifetime, and whose fame and legacy continues to this day.
About the Author
Having gained a PhD in history and political anthropology from Cambridge University, Robert L. Stone has worked for many years advising governments on strategies to fight poverty, particularly in the wake of conflicts. He has a lifelong interest in how different cultures and ethnicities relate to each other – this, combined with his love of literature, is the inspiration for The Golden Bell.
Thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blogtour and to WhiteFox for the advance copy of the book.
Catch up with the rest of the blogtour at the links on the poster
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