Cantillation signs – “black-limbed curlicues”

example of biblical Hebrew trope

example of biblical Hebrew trope (from Wikipedia article on “Cantillation”)

“In the holy tongue, cantillation signs are called taamin, which also means flavors. These little flourishes above and below the letters not only score the melody of the text, they bring out its essence. In time, you, too, will savor the holy verses.” (Zalman, in Anouk Markovits’s novel, I am Forbidden [p54])

… In Josef’s sleep, the black-limbed curlicues scuffled and spun threads he could not unravel, Zalman stories within Christ stories amid which Josef searched for a last letter, a first letter, that spelled a lost word. (I am Forbidden, by Anouk Markovits [p54])

“Cantillation signs guide the reader in applying a chant to Biblical readings. This chant is technically regarded as a ritualized form of speech intonation rather than as a musical exercise like the singing of metrical hymns: for this reason Jews always speak of saying or reading a passage rather than of singing it.” (from Wikipedia)

Anouk Markovits has such a remarkable power to weave words. “But the wonder of this elegant, enthralling novel,” as Susannah Meadows so aptly puts it in her review for The New York Times, “is the beauty Ms Markovits unearths in the Hasidic community she takes us into. She remains largely nonjudgmental about the most difficult-to-grasp practices of the Satmar sect, while showing how even the most fervent believers struggle with the letter-of-the-law faith.”


Markovits, Anouk. 2012. I am forbidden. London: Hogarth

For links to reviews and related material, see The taste of clouds, (07 Nov 2012)

The taste of clouds

"I am Forbidden" – cover

“I am Forbidden” – cover

On the crest of the Pont des Arts, they leaned over the bridge’s railing and turned up their palms for the first drops of rain. The sky unleashed itself and they whirled as they had as children, arms stretched wide as their tongues searched their lips for the taste of clouds. (Anouk Markovits, in I am Forbidden [p138]) 

As I read I am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits – pen and paper always at the ready – the text drew me, deeper and deeper, into a profound experience. There is much to share … but not all at once.

Anouk Markovits was raised a Hasidic Jew in France, but at 19 she fled her community to avoid an arranged marriage. She went on to get a master’s degree in architecture and a PhD in romance studies. “I Am Forbidden,” her first novel in English, centers on two Hasidic sisters: one who leaves, and one who stays, shunning modernity. (from a review published in The New York Times (15 May 2012)

There’s a succinct synopsis on GoodReads, and a review with links to related material on The Telegraph.


Markovits, Anouk. 2012. I am forbidden. London: Hogarth


“If he flees westward, he finds the fire. If he turns southward, he finds the fire. If he turns northward, the seething fire meets him again. Nor does he find a way to the east to be saved, for he did not find it in his days of incarnation, nor will he find it in the day of judgment.” The Book of Thomas the Contender — Thomas the Humorless, Fabrikant had thought when he was forced to memorize the verses in secondary school. Doom at every compass point. Fabrikant wondered if he had become the hands of Thomas, manufacturing the vehicle of that ultimate flame. (Robert Charles Wilson, in Mysterium)

Wilson, Robert Charles. [Copyright 1994 by Robert Charles Wilson. Boston: Bantam Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.] 2010. Mysterium. New York: An Orb Book published by Tom Douherty Associates LLC [p125]

Review by James Schellenberg, on Challenging Destiny 

Review by Thomas M Wagner, on SF Reviews

See also The Book of Thomas the Contender, translated by John D Turner, in The Nag Hammadi Library

Whistle-blower is a street preacher

That defiant whistle-blower had somehow seemed familiar. Today it all became clear: his stalwart (and silent) wife stood by him today as he blew his thin, sad songs.

And she was the clue; I had several times seen her, plainly dressed and stony faced, standing beside him as he gestured with his Bible and shouted at the passers-by – alternately railing against sinners and advertising the power of evil.

No love. No joy. No peace. Not so much as a smile from either of them.

On those occasions, I had restrained myself from stopping to remind him that St Paul had determined to preach only Christ crucified. Today, I had the urge to suggest that at least he might play something cheerful.

Good Friday

A brisk knocking at my front door, not long after nine in the morning.

Laying aside my book, I look into my hallway, moving a little closer to the frosted panes. Blurred shapes and merging colours: three figures – or possibly four. Female voices: one, at least, that of a child.

“Good morning,” I call, wondering if I’ll need to open the door – in which case I’ll need to scramble into some clothes.

But the chitchat obliterates my tentative greeting. Another rat-a-tat-tat.

“Who’s there?” I call – louder, but still unheard. The talk-talk continues.

I return to my book. The voices recede in ambling procession. Soon enough, though, I catch the muffled sound of knuckles on another door.