As far as romance goes, Jakob Sammelsohn is fairly incurable. A young Jewish oculist, he is twice married - once divorced and once widowed - all by the age of twelve. He finally flees his small village and his pious, vengeful father, and makes his way to dazzling Vienna. Surrounded by intellectuals on the forefront of knowledge and living in a place bustling with innovation, Jakob begins to think he was followed; a dybbuk, a demonic spirit from Yiddish folklore who was once his unwanted bride, trails Jakob throughout the novel and challenges his beliefs in a world of science. Travelling from Vienna to Warsaw, Jakob is patronized by three mentors, all real-life luminaries: Sigmund Freud, who is just beginning to raise eyebrows with his early work in psychoanalysis; L. L. Zamenhof, the founder of Esperanto, the utopian international-language movement to promote brotherhood; and Rav Kalonymos Kalmish Szapira, a rabbi who refuses to abandon his faith in the darkest moments of the Nazi genocide. Skibell skilfully combines Jakob's fictional tale with the facts of these men's lives, weaving each of the threads into a love story stretching decades, and with each stirs up debate about the purpose of faith in the modern world.
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.