By Aryeh Lev Stollman
New York: Riverhead Books, 2003
ISBN 1-57322-375-1
226 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
May February 2012

This collection of 10 short stories is fascinating reading, challenging, unusual in form and Jewish to the core. Iíve never read anything quite like them, and loved the reading.

First I note the unusualness of form. Most short stories seem to have a central problem that crops up, is developed and treated and somehow resolved. These stories are of a very different sort. Each story has some sort of central event or problematic going on in the lives of the main characters, but, almost always, also some other lines of events not really related to the main problematic, but illustrative of the lives of the main characters.

Almost all the stories have these features:

  1. The characters are Jews, most often practicing very conservative and traditional Jews, but at times not, even a few seem to be Jewish atheists.
  2. Almost all the central characters are highly educated and very cultured.
  3. Almost all the main characters are well known, often even (fictionally) world famous in their fields.
  4. Most of the central characters are in the arts or esoteric areas of science or academic scholarship.
  5. Virtually all are quite economically well off.
  6. In several of the stories there are elements of the occult, such a boy in the first story who carries on a brotherly life with his dead brother.

I was particularly taken with the tendency of each story to have several things going on in the charactersí lives, and rather than there being some central plot, we sort of following those characters in their everyday lives experiencing with them moments of success, struggle, disappointment and joy, almost always mixed into the ordinary flow of their lives.

I highly recommend the stories. Below I have notes I made for myself to remind me of things in each story which I may want to look back to. I include them here in case any might be interested in talking about any of the stories.

Mr. Mitochondria

The family of mom, dad and two sons who are awaiting a frightening invasion of grasshoppers in the Sinai desert. Their son Adar is believed to be a child prodigy, the mother a well-known science fiction writer, the father a researcher at an experimental nuclear station.

But Adarís relation with his brother is especially problematic.


A rabbi and his family live down the street from his new cantor and his wife, Bernice. Alexander, the rabbiís son becomes a close friend to Bernice. She had lost a child who would have been about the same age as Alexander. Bernice views herself an absolutely indispensible to the cantor, a man nearly half generation older than she. Alas, she is wrong since he never did get over his first wifeís death.

Die Grosse Liebe

Ute is a stay at home mother, wife to her jeweler husband. There son, Joseph, is a translator and lives at home. Ute has a complete fixation on the movie The Great Love, (Die Grosse Liebe), a German film of the Nazi period. She watches it over and over. After her husband dies she takes over the jewelry shop and does well, until a woman customer attacks her, seemingly for no reason. However, her son not only watches the movie himself, but becomes fixated by it after her death since it reveals the reason she loved it so, and the reason the woman customer attacked her.

The Adornment of Days

Alexander Sahne is a well know composer. He has written an opera about an esoteric tale within Jewish tradition. A very rich New Yorker, non-Jewish herself, but with Jewish roots, agrees to fund the opera and even visits him in Jerusalem. However, there is an attempted murder when they are at a street festival in a scene that sort of mirrors the opera.

New Memories

Blossom, Alexanderís motherís sister comes to live with them at the lake after his fatherís death. His mother wants to sell the cottage, but Blossom convinces her there are too many memories. She then becomes very close to Alexander and his sister Sarah and helps them create ďnew memoriesĒ which turns out to be an important event in their own grieving for their father.

The Seat of Higher Consciousness

A tragic car accident injures the mother of 12 year old Zahava and her 10 year old brother Ehuo. But she teaches the kids the value of family, and we meet them in later years when both are successful in their activities.

The Creation of Anat

Anat at 39 is an up and coming embryologist and daughter of a famous artist. Her mother left years ago. Anat has a serious illness but is comforted by her father.

The Little Poet

Two families, friend for years, meet in Jerusalem and each has a pre-teen child. The Canadiansí son is a would-be poet genius and very consumed by himself and his talent. The Israeli family has a real brat of a daughter who is plain obnoxious. Each family just dotes on their own child.

If I Have Found Favor in Your Eyes

A 14 year boy lives with his mother after his father ran off with a younger woman. Mother is a famous pianist, father a famous composer. Both parents are Jewish but not religious Jews. The boy is atheistic but becomes very close with a young radically orthodox couple who move into their New York neighborhood to proselytize fallen away Jews.

The boy likes the young couple a great deal, but has no interest in their religious message, and in the meantime his mother has a traumatic experience at one of her concerts.

The Dialogues of Time and Entropy

This last story, the title story for the book, was one I found difficult and I feel Iíve missed a good deal. I just donít know much about the notion of the relationship between time and entropy. In any case we follow two groups, the first is Christine, a brilliant upcoming scientist who develops a deadly new disease just about the same time she falls in love. She is being treated by two scientists developing a new treatment for this new disease, and we then follow one of those two scientists who, himself, has family problems when they have a child with severe autism. His wife, is a serious scientist, who gets involved in some very unscientific radical faith community in the Palestinian sector of the Sinai. There clearly is meant to be a connection between the two poles of time and entropy with the two diseases being suffered, but I was never very sure about it all.

Bob Corbett


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