Cover image for The man who thought he was Messiah
The man who thought he was Messiah
Leviant, Curt.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society, 1990.
Physical Description:
222 pages ; 24 cm
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"This beautiful and moving fictional narrative deserves our attention. It is the work of a gifted writer."
--Elie Wiesel

A remarkable novel filled with love, adventure, and mystical imagination, set in the year 1800 in Russia, Vienna, Turkey, and the Land of Israel. The author portrays one year in the extraordinary life of the Hasidic master and leader, composer, and storyteller Reb Nachman of Bratzlav--the man who thought he was Messiah.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Although Rabbi Nachman died in the early 1800s, the Bratslaver Hasidim have never seen fit to replace him as their leader. Unique in this respect in the annals of Hasidism, they are thus known as the ``Dead Hasidim.'' In Leviant's ( Passion in the Desert ) hypnotic fable, Nachman is fictionally resurrected. Great-grandson of the sainted Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, Nachman hears God's whisper; he is the Messiah. Erotically charged, however, he falls passionately in love with a young girl (the description of their affair displays some of Leviant's most felicitous prose). When Nachman tells his love that she is more beautiful than the Hebrew alphabet, he loses the ability to read. Wracked by guilt, convinced that he has sunk to the depths of moral degradation, he embarks on several journeys in an effort to regain his soul and sense of mission. He visits Beethoven in Vienna, the sultan of Byzantium, and sundry personages in Eretz Israel, performing good deeds--and even miracles--as he goes. An evanescent quality invades Nachman's life and eventually he fades completely, his destiny unfulfilled. Or is it? So much of Nachman's life is suffused with mysticism that fantasy seems an apt vehicle for truth. Spare, clean and poetic, Leviant's version of his story is brilliantly wrought. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Set in the year 1800, Leviant's mythical tale tells the story of Reb Nachman, a fictional great-grandson of the Hasidic mystic Baal Shem Tov. Nachman believes he, himself, could be the Messiah. But his love for a Gentile girl sends him on a pilgrimage to test his calling. In Vienna he becomes a close friend of Beethoven, mixing music and mysticism. Later he goes to Turkey and ultimately to Jerusalem. His understanding of what the Messiah really is begins to change as he seems to fail in some tests and succeed in others. Ultimately, he returns to his home in Bratzlav, Russia with the wisdom, vision, and self-knowledge that his quest has produced. An engaging fable that is at once amusing, touching, and profoundly thought-provoking. Enjoyable reading. Recommended for public libraries.-- C. Robert Nixon, M.L.S., Lafayette, Ind. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Leviant's novel is a fantasy based on Nachman of Bratslav, a Hasidic zaddik and ardent devotee of prayer and music, who was believed to have the soul of the Messiah. This narrative is an enchanting tale of self-exile and spiritual quest juxtaposing Nachman's subjective view of his illicit sexual encounter, his subsequent loss of the Hebrew alphabet (to which he compared the woman's beauty), and his redemptive goals with the objective diary reports of his assistant Nathan. Descendant of the House of David and grandson of the founder of Hasidism, Nachman believes that God has chosen him for messianic assumption. In a series of redemptive journeys, he befriends and collaborates with Beethoven in Vienna, heals the sultan's daughter of a psychological illness in Turkey, and achieves spiritual renewal in Israel. Yet, he remains haunted by Lizabeta, the original agent of his fall, who repeatedly appears to him in dream and disguise, still a potent force preventing him from bringing forth the Messiah. Leviant employs the traditional themes of aspirations to Messianic ascension and false messiahs to fabricate a stirring tale of spiritual longing, a metafiction in the midrashic mode that introduces one tale to interpret another. Leviant is a writer of force and originality whose fantasy delights the imagination. Recommended for academic and public libraries. -S. L. Kremer, Kansas State University