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This novel is the imaginative recreation of a year in the life of the 18th century storyteller and rabbi, Reb Nachman, great-grandson of the founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem ???. Nachman's stories are said to have influenced Franz Kafka and S.Y. Agnon, Israel's Nobel laureate. This episode takes place during a self-imposed exile from his hometown of Bratslav, as Reb Nachman is journeying to the land of Israel to seek salvation and inner peace. Curt Leviant is the author of The Yemenite Girl and Passion in the Desert. His stories have been included in Best American Stories and the O Henry Awards. REB NACHMAN OF BRATSLAV AND THE SULTAN'S DAUGHTER / Curt Leviant OUT UNDER THE OPEN summer skies. Reb Nachman, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem ???, goes into exile again? Puffy clouds accented the arching blue. The green of pines and clover swizzed before his eyes like velvet as he walked. In front of him a large, yellow, spotted butterfly tasted a sunflower, then flew to a mignionette! He too moved like a butterfly. Running away from sweets. The dreams a worm in his soul. They destroy by night everything I achieve by day. Perhaps the lesson is: God made us as we are. We can only add dimension, not change nature. But as soon as he left Bratslav, the dreams of forbidden love disappeared again. So that, that is the place of my defilement, the town I wanted to make a holy community. As he travelled south, toward Turkey, he tried to suppress memory with prayer. But could not erase the white curtains, the misty faces in the bes medresh, the complaining voices. If two people uttered such heresy aloud—"Maybe he shouldn't be our rabbi!"—who knows how many thought the same in their hearts? They called me a sinner for my ideas. Ha! Nachman was startled by his outburst. He looked around. Walked on. The sun shone. The fields, squares of green and beige. Careful farming. Haystacks shaped like mushrooms. In the grey distance, hills spun slowly in the heat. If the Hasidim only knew the true nature of my spiritual state, they would exile me. And perhaps they have. Nachman closed his eyes for a moment. The summer scene of pines and clover was shut away. He thought of himself. Could see his hat, his shoes, his hands. But he could not imagine his face. His face was a blank, an unfinished portrait. He shivered; in a fright, touched eyes, nose, cheeks. Another broken rung. Could others see that broken rung, that unimagined face? One day he was near the city of his birth. Mezhibezh. He was tempted to go into the town he hadn't been in for years. Surely no one would recognize him in his workman's clothing. But he was afraid to hear zayde's admonition: Return. Do not undertake this journey, says the Baal Shem ???. The time has not yet come to set out for the Land of Israel. Afraid he would hear his grand-uncle Naftoli's warning voice: Fear Istanbul. But Nachman felt the time had come; he did not want to hear the word "Return." He avoided Mezhibezh; did not tempt visions. In towns on the trade route to Istanbul, Nachman gathered information. From travellers, from merchants, from innkeepers, from a Jerusalem The Missouri Review · 277 fund collector familiar with Istanbul. Before Nachman arrived in Turkey, he knew where to stay and where to pray. He learned how to book passage for a ship, how often ships sailed, which ticket agents to avoid. He was told that Istanbul, with 750,000 people, was one of the biggest cities in the world. He learned that Jews lived in the Galata quarter and, like the Turks, wore turbans and blue slippers. Above all, he was cautioned: the Turkish Jews were suspicious folk—it was best to keep one's distance from them. "They are business brokers," the fund collector said, waving a scrawny finger in Nachman's face, "and agents ... of intrigue." As he walked near the river, he expected to hear the city noises miles away. Yet within two miles from...


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pp. 176-204
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