The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern
Published by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman
The Karps are not a particularly religious family, nor are they particularly interested in their Jewish heritage. Influence and money are really bigger motivators in their lives. That is why it is a bit surprising when their son Bernie discovers an old man in their meat locker and learns that he is a rabbi who was overcome by an ice storm while praying and has been protected by the family for years. Not long after that, the power goes out and the rabbi is suddenly thawed. From here the story splits into a dual time period narrative, following Bernie’s ancestors from the time they took possession of the icy holy man up nearly through the present day, and examining the antics of the newly released rabbi, who gets himself into quite a lot of trouble.
I am very much of two minds about “The Frozen Rabbi.” The premise, certainly, is fascinating. I also loved most of the historical timeline. By following the lives and trials of the family sheltering their frozen mystic, readers got a good glimpse of the lives of Jews in small European towns over the last 150 years or so. The family was forced to move from place to place due to pogroms and general hatred, eventually leaving for America before the horrors of World War II.
On the other hand, I simply could not connect with the modern storyline. Initially the idea that the rabbi turned worldly and very much like Bernie’s father, while Bernie was inspired by the rabbi’s existence to learn about his heritage and become very spiritual was intriguing. However, the constant repetition of Bernie’s spirit floating away from his body and the rabbi being SHOCKING! got old quickly, and it felt that, for a long time, not much plot was advanced.
“The Frozen Rabbi” is quirky and funny and interesting, but really just wasn’t for me – as evidenced by the fact I had no problem putting it down for 2 weeks with only 80 pages left. Still, it was well-written and if the premise intrigues you, it might just be worth a read.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.