Tamar Yellin's Genizah at the House of Shepher, which I mentioned on my blog awhile back, has gone white-hot/red-hot just prior to its April 15th release date. Not only have rave reviews come in from the library trade journals, but reviews are also forthcoming in major newspapers and general review magazines. I think it is entirely possible that this amazingly skillful first novel will turn out to be one of the unexpected large-scale success stories of 2005.
I do have to say, though, having sampled The Da Vinci Code, that the quote in the press release below is inaccurate, in that Tamar's novel was written by a masterful prose stylist and is in every way a serious literary novel even while being immensely entertaining.
The Genizah at the House of Shepher
Pub date: April 15th, 2005
Publisher: The Toby Press
ISBN: 1 59264 085 0
"IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT DOWN." - Booklist starred review
"A FASCINATING, LABYRINTHINE JOURNEY." - Kirkus Reviews
"FILLED WITH MYTH, MYSTERY AND HISTORY." - Library Journal
"WARM AND ENGROSSING, RICH WITH HISTORICAL DETAIL AND UNMET YEARNING." - Publishers Weekly
"A JEWISH-STYLE DA VINCI CODE SAGA." - Ynetnews.com
Beginning with a search for the ten lost tribes and ending in an attic, where lies an important bible which has been missing for seventy-nine years, The Genizah at the House of Shepher is Tamar Yellin's critically acclaimed debut novel.
Returning to her grandparents' home in Jerusalem after an absence of many years, Shulamit, an English biblical scholar, stumbles into the mystery of the so-called Shepher Codex, an ancient and valuable manuscript of the Bible which has been discovered in the "genizah" or attic. In uncovering the truth about the Codex she reveals the loves, hates and histories of the Shepher family itself and at the same time struggles to answer pressing questions: what is the significance of the Codex and where does it come from? Who is the stranger, Gideon, who is desperate to enlist her help? Above all, whom does the Codex belong to and what part must Shula play in its destiny?
"'The Genizah at the House of Shepher' quickly sweeps readers up in an exhaustively researched, intelligent saga about the whereabouts of the only true handwritten copy of the Bible." - Ynetnews.com
Yellin, a prize-winning Bible student herself was inspired to write the novel when a vast cache of family documents was discovered in the attic of her grandparents' home in Jerusalem, shortly before it was scheduled for demolition.
"It was an incredible sight," she says. "Even the dust on the floorboards was composed of disintegrating paper."
Among the huge array of family letters, diaries and early newspapers was found a vitally important Hebrew bible, containing notes on the text of the Aleppo Codex, regarded by scholars as the most perfect text of the Bible in existence.
The Codex had been destroyed by fire in 1947, and the notes were the only surviving evidence of what its text had been. The notes had been missing for more than seventy years. They were eventually used to reconstruct the vanished Codex.
"Even small variations in the Hebrew text of the Bible can be of tremendous significance," Yellin states. "Because every Hebrew letter is also a number, the Bible is like an enormous codebook. A change in a single letter can be of huge importance, for example, to numerologists who are seeking to calculate the date of the end of the world."
Seated amongst the remains of her family history, Yellin first conceived the idea for The Genizah at the House of Shepher.
"The novel took thirteen years to write," she says. "There was a huge amount of research to be undertaken, which took me to libraries in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Leeds and Toronto."
Once completed, it took another three years to find a publisher. It went the rounds of the London publishing houses twice, before finding a home with distinguished U.S. independent The Toby Press. "The whole business made me ill in the end," Yellin recalls. "One morning at the hospital I was given the devastating news that I may have cancer. That afternoon I received an email from Matthew Miller at The Toby Press, asking if the rights to the novel were still available."
Fortunately, the cancer scare turned out to be a false alarm, and Yellin completed a fourth and final rewrite on the novel before its publication in April, 2005.
Ynetnews, the English edition of leading Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, has compared 'The Genizah at the House of Shepher' to Dan Brown's bestseller 'The Da Vinci Code.' "The mystery crops up like a Jewish, low-profile version of 'The Da Vinci Code.' Shulamit is like novelist Dan Brown's cryptographer Sophie Neveu, who sets out on a journey to seek the secret her great-grandfather was charged to protect.
"As in 'The Da Vinci Code,' Yellin's book challenges readers' minds with a fair measure of intrigue and scholarly adventure, albeit its biblical topic."
Award-winning novelist Jeff VanderMeer, whose 'City of Saints and Madmen' appears this month from Pan MacMillan, has drawn parallels between the novel and A. S. Byatt's Booker prize-winning 'Possession.' "Beautifully written and evoking echoes of A. S. Byatt's Possession, Yellin's novel melds the personal and the wide panorama of history into a rich, satisfying tale."
Yellin herself describes her novel as "not only an academic thriller, but an interrogation of Jewish identity, a meditation on exile and belonging, and, along the way, a love story. In constructing what I call the "mythical history" of the family Shepher, I was re-imagining and striving to come to terms with my own family narrative and with my place in it."