I specialize in reviewing Print-On-Demand (POD) published books for my website and Midwest Book Review. Please query for a review by email to hgunther234@hotmail.com.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

THE BINDING OF ISAAC by Michael Shocket

The Binding of Isaac
Michael Shocket
Authors OnLine Ltd
40 Castle Street
Hertford SG14 1HR, England
ISBN: 0 7552 1012 3, $14.95, 247 pp, 2004

There are a number of books with the title The Binding of Isaac or the Akedah, a primary symbol in Jewish thought, tradition, culture, and liturgy–the story of God’s command to Abraham that he sacrifice his first-born son, Isaac, to Him as a burnt offering.

The paradox being . . . if cherished, why sacrificed, and if sacrificed, in what way cherished?

This book, The Binding of Isaac, is a contemporary novel which takes place in England. The pivotal character Abraham is an orthodox Jew who has lost his faith after his son, Isaac, who suffered brain damage at birth, is sentenced to prison for the rape and attempted murder of his step-sister. Peter, a Nigerian barrister, and the son of Josiah, an African vicar, represents the boy in an appeal and falls in love with Rosie, Isaac’s younger sister. The fathers, Josiah and Abraham, one a devout Christian and the other an orthodox Jew, both at variance with fundamentalism, establish a unique friendship.

I felt many things as I read this book: tones of Fiddler on the Roof to, strangely, Cinderella with poor Isaac as Cinderfella. Isaac’s step-mother, -sister, and -brother were truly the source of Isaac’s hellish life. I particularly liked how the author wrote from a first-person perspective for each character and how he handled the sexuality throughout, the acceptable and unacceptable, in a contemporary erotic manner, very tastefully done.

Now, I’m going to include two excerpts to illustrate Michael Shocket’s style and give you a feel for the heart of his story as spoken by Abraham. The first excerpt is from pages 14-15:

The new Abraham can no longer accept the divinity to whom he prayed so devotedly for most of his life. As a matter of fact, these days I find the sight of my former colleagues swaying in unison whispering, shouting . . . all this now seems ludicrous, and, as for the words they mouth . . . well, most of them, as far as I am concerned, are unacceptable.

For instance, at the holiest time of the year, on the Day of Atonement, we ask who may die of this, of that . . . but affirm our faith that piety and prayer will avert "the evil decree." Well, my friend, in the face of actual events, if you believe that, you can believe anything.

As for this omnipotent being before whom we kneel and abase ourselves in supplication . . . what sort of power have we created? To my mind God – whose name we dare not mention, so we call him hashem, "the name" – is a being who must divert himself creating wonderful creatures and then playing cruel games with them. He gives the hare sensitive large ears to become aware of danger, and the ability to run away from his attacker at great speed. Then he endows the huge cat with even greater speed and cunning. I suppose the God of our bible watches the chase with the same enjoyment as you probably watch a game of football. But here the contest ends for the hare in either survival or a gruesome death. So does the fate of this hunted creature – of us all – depend ultimately on no more than a whim . . . that when my son, Isaac was born . . . when life was breathed into his soul for his entire span on earth . . . he should be cursed with irreparable brain damage? . . .

I’ve come to the conclusion that the main cause of the blackest pages in history can be attributed to that misguided faith which urges man to suppress all moral feeling–to commit atrocities in the name of "obedience", whether it is to a human or supposedly divine command.

In this second excerpt, Abraham is having a conversation with his friend Nathan Adler, principal of the Jewish boarding school for children with learning disabilities where Abraham teaches–pages 158-159:

"So you do believe in a Creator."

"No! I can’t! This is where I remain confused. The traditional concept of all religions is the existence of a super being capable of creation and control over the destiny of man. Would you say, Nathan that God created man in His image?

He reflects a moment, then rather hesitantly nods his head.

"Well, I’d say the opposite: that it was man who created God in his."


"Well, what kind of a deity does that give us? Would you agree that the bible presents a being of supreme power?"

"Of course."

"But how is that power exercised? In the light of known history I’d consider it vindictive, unjust, unsympathetic, cruel . . . Need I go on? Do I have to give you – a Jew – examples? To be honest, my friend, what kind of God has man created–in his own terrible image?" . . .

"So – if I retain my belief that I have a soul – that the known universe is not all there is – that beyond human understanding there is a supernatural dimension – I must look elsewhere than in the bible for an explanation – knowing however that no human being limited with five senses could find it! It’s beyond us. As far as mankind is concerned there is no ultimate truth

This story has historical depth and religious honesty. Besides Abraham’s loss of faith, it addresses the problems and pleasures of sexuality; the pain from religious, racial and social prejudice; the negative attitudes towards people with learning disabilities; and, on the positive side, three bitter-sweet, interwoven love stories–life in the real world, you might say. If you’re an intelligent reader who wants something more than the popular books off the formula genre mill, I promise . . . you will not be disappointed.

Dr. Michael Shocket is a retired lecturer living in Hertfordshire. He is a member of the Council for Christians and Jews and states that his religious views are reflected in the pivotal character of Abraham. This is his first novel, and it is an excellent read. Dr. Shocket has written several text books published by the Cambridge University, poems in various magazines, and his autobiography, Know Me Tomorrow.

Review by Kaye Trout March 23, 2006 - Copyright


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