THE MYSTICS OF MILE END

Sigal Samuel

Sigal Samuel’s debut novel, in the vein of Nicole Krauss’s bestselling

The History of Love, is an imaginative story that delves into the heart of Jewish mysticism, faith, and family.

“This is not an ordinary tree I am making.

“This,” he said, “this is the Tree of Knowledge.”

In the half-Hasidic, half-hipster Montreal neighborhood of Mile End, eleven-year-old Lev Meyer is discovering that there may be a place for Judaism in his life. As he learns about science in his day school, Lev begins his own extracurricular study of the Bible’s Tree of Knowledge with neighbor Mr.

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Sigal Samuel’s debut novel, in the vein of Nicole Krauss’s bestselling

The History of Love, is an imaginative story that delves into the heart of Jewish mysticism, faith, and family.

“This is not an ordinary tree I am making.

“This,” he said, “this is the Tree of Knowledge.”

In the half-Hasidic, half-hipster Montreal neighborhood of Mile End, eleven-year-old Lev Meyer is discovering that there may be a place for Judaism in his life. As he learns about science in his day school, Lev begins his own extracurricular study of the Bible’s Tree of Knowledge with neighbor Mr. Katz, who is building his own Tree out of trash. Meanwhile his sister Samara is secretly studying for her Bat Mitzvah with next-door neighbor and Holocaust survivor, Mr. Glassman. All the while his father, David, a professor of Jewish mysticism, is a non-believer.

When, years later, David has a heart attack, he begins to believe God is speaking to him. While having an affair with one of his students, he delves into the complexities of Kabbalah. Months later Samara, too, grows obsessed with the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life—hiding her interest from those who love her most–and is overcome with reaching the Tree’s highest heights. The neighbors of Mile End have been there all along, but only one of them can catch her when she falls.

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  • William Morrow Paperbacks
  • Paperback
  • October 2015
  • 320 Pages
  • 9780062412171

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About Sigal Samuel

Sigal Samuel is an award-winning fiction writer, journalist, essayist, and playwright. Currently a writer and editor for the Forward, she has also published work in the Daily Beast, the Rumpus, BuzzFeed, and the Walrus. Her six plays have been produced from Vancouver to New York.

Sigal earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Originally from Montreal, she now lives and writes in Brooklyn. The Mystics of Mile End is her first novel.

Praise

Every character in this outstanding first novel is searching for a reason to exist…The need for human relationships and mysticism’s relationship to life impel them forward…This heart-stopping narrative will keep readers glued until the very end.—Booklist

A family is pulled to Jewish mysticism…in this expansive saga about faith, love, and loss…The minor characters, ever present in the background, shine as their stories conclude powerfully…A tale about the stories we let ourselves believe.” —Kirkus Review

An inventive debut novel, The Mystics of Mile End by Sigal Samuel (Morrow) is set in the Montreal Jewish neighborhood of Mile End, with questions of faith, religion and identity swirling about, as each member of a family dabbles in the Kabbalah.—The Jewish Week

Rarely does one encounter a novel as full of charm and heart as Sigal Samuel’s riveting The Mystics of Mile End…A novel that takes up enormous questions – about the very nature of existence – with both profound intelligence and galloping humor. Before you crack open this book, be forewarned: You will fall in love.” —Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year

Discussion Questions

Why do you think the author set this book in Montreal’s Mile End neighborhood? What does the setting add to the story?

David is depicted as a secular professor. Do you think he is a spiritual person, if not a religious one? How does his relationship with religion change after he is diagnosed with the heart murmur?

How are Lev and Samara different? How are they alike? Why do they adopt such opposite attitudes toward religion as they grow up?

Is Samara a sympathetic character? Why or why not? Is it important to your experience of the book that you like her?

Why do both David and Samara grow obsessed with the Tree of

Life? And why is the outcome different for each of them? Can you relate to this sort of obsession?

When Samara begins to climb the Tree of Life, she chooses to send letters to Alex. Why him?

Mr. Katz’s neighbors see him as deranged. Are there any moments that suggest he may not be so crazy after all? What do you imagine led to his obsession with recreating mystical trees?

In one of his stories, Mr. Glassman lists words that don’t exist but should. What do you think he wishes he could say to his wife, and what does he say after the book ends? What are some experiences that you wish you had words for?

A Jewish legend quoted in this book tells of four sages who enter a holy garden: one dies, one goes mad, one “cuts down the plantings,” and one comes out intact. Do you see parallels between them and the characters in this novel?

Where do you think Samara and Lev will be in ten years? What will their relationship be like over that decade? Will Jenny still be in their lives? Will Val?