Stollman, Aryeh Lev 1954–
Stollman, Aryeh Lev 1954–
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Riverhead Books, 345 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
AWARDS, HONORS: American Library Association Notable Book, 1997, Los Angeles Times Book Review Recommended Book of the Year, Wilbur Award, Religion Communicator Council, and Lambda Award, Lambda Literary Foundation, all for The Far Euphrates; Chaim Potok Literary Award, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia.
The Far Euphrates (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Illuminated Soul (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Dialogues of Time and Entropy (short stories), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor of short stories to journals, including American Short Fiction, Story, Southwest Review, Foreword, Tikkun, and Yale Review.
The Far Euphrates has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, and Portuguese. The Illuminated Soul has been translated into German, Dutch, and Italian.
SIDELIGHTS: With his debut effort, The Far Euphrates, novelist Aryeh Lev Stollman tells of a young Jewish boy whose Holocaust-surviving parents have sheltered him from the outside world in an effort to protect him from its many dangers. Set in the quiet backdrop of Windsor, Ontario, the story leads the boy, Aryeh Alexander ben Shelomo (Alexander), on a journey of discovery, both about himself and the history of the Holocaust, which is intertwined with his own family's history.
Not only are Alexander's parents survivors of the horrible tragedy, but his next-door neighbor, Bernard Seidengarn, and Bernard's twin sister Hannalore are as well. Growing up in this insulated world, Alexander finds himself caught between the powerful forces of his protective parents. Alexander feels pulled by "my mother's uncontrollable fears and my father's unanswerable intellectual and spiritual pursuits," a direct reflection of the personality traits of each of his parents. When Alexander begins to make a habit of daydreaming while cooped-up in his little world, his mother Sarah seeks out a gypsy "prophetess" for advice. His father, on the other hand, is constantly immersed in his inexhaustible search for knowledge. He is particularly hungry to find the origins of human existence, which in his opinion had roots in the valley of "the far Euphrates with its source in Eden." At one point he tells Alexander, "it's human nature to seek out patterns wherever they may present themselves."
Alexander's search for his own identity leads him through a courtship with a girl who simultaneously entices and shuns him, and an episode where he has a flood of sexual feelings for a handsome boy. Although these events are important in Alexander's development, it is the history of his people that most effects the impressionable boy. Alexander particularly agonizes when he learns the "secret" of Bernard and Hannalore's past imprisonment in the death camp of Auschwitz, where they suffered through the twisted experiments of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Bernard is also the family's cantor (a religious official of the Jewish faith who leads the musical aspects of a service) and is very much a part of Alexander's upbringing. Because of this fact, the impact of the discovery is even greater on Alexander. This teaches the disillusioned Alexander that innocence is always susceptible to the cruelty of the world.
Stollman's style in writing The Far Euphrates was noted by critics. "Highly recommended for all fiction collections," wrote Molly Abramowitz of the Library Journal. A contributor for Publishers Weekly was impressed with the book's "deceptively quiet, gentle tone" and believed it "works on its readers most visceral sympathies and fears." In like manner, a contributor in Kirkus Reviews called the book a "ruminative and wonderfully moving first novel." The reviewer went on to write that the story is "an affirmation of our right and need to believe in the essential permanence of things and of the spirit."
Stollman's second novel, The Illuminated Soul, was also somewhat influenced by his childhood. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote of the book: "Stollman illuminates the mysteries of life with the clear eye of a scientist and the faith of a believer." Told from the point of view of Dr. Joseph Ivri, a Jewish neuroanatomist, The Illuminated Soul looks back at a summer in his childhood home in Windsor in the late 1940s when he was fourteen years old. Eva Laquedem Higashi, a Jewish refugee from Prague who has traveled from place to place since the 1930s, rented a room from Joseph's mother, Adele, a recent widow who was starting a catering business to support Joseph and his brother.
A scientist who also speaks seven languages, Eva tells many stories and charms the family with her exotic nature. She also possesses an illuminated Hebrew manuscript, which has been in her family for several centuries. The manuscript, the Augsburg Miscellany, and its importance are revealed over the course of the book. Eva opens Joseph's eyes to the world and affects his future. New York Times contributor Nell Freudenberger noted: "Stollman is one of those writers who can not only create a convincing child but can crawl into his skin, unlearning the things adults know and becoming, again, a kind of foreigner in the world." Of the novel as a whole, a critic in Kirkus Reviews wrote: "Stollman is a writer of rare skill, every line molded and sculpted to perfection, and life in a small Canadian Jewish community is well rendered. The sense of loss pervading these Holocaust-stricken pages is almost overwhelming."
Stollman next published a collection of short stories featuring Jewish characters, The Dialogues of Time and Entropy. The title story is about a woman, Ahuvah, who works as a physicist and has an autistic daughter. She leaves her husband Paul in Canada and takes her daughter to an Israeli settlement in Palestine that is about to be returned to the Palestinians. While Ahuvah hopes to find help, perhaps in the form of a miracle, for her daughter and herself, the reality is more complicated. Another story, "If I Have Found Favor in Your Eyes," concerns a Jewish teenager whose unconventional parents are divorcing. He becomes fascinated by his neighbors, Hasidic Jews. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted of the collection: "An expert weaver, Stollman brings together themes of religion, science, and love into an emotional whole."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Stollman, Aryeh Lev, The Far Euphrates, Riverhead (New York, NY), 1997.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1997, review of The Far Euphrates, p. 980; December 15, 2001, review of The Illuminated Soul, p. 1717; January 1, 2003, review of The Dialogues of Time and Entropy, p. 23.
Library Journal, September 1, 1997, Molly Abramowitz, review of The Far Euphrates, p. 221.
New York Times, April 28, 2002, Nell Freudenberger, "A Woman without a Past," review of The Illuminated Soul, sec. 7, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, July 7, 1997, review of The Far Euphrates, p. 46; January 28, 2002, review of The Illuminated Soul, p. 269.
Aryeh Lev Stollman Home Page, http://www.aryehlevstollman.com (October 10, 2005).
BOMB, http://www.bombsite.com/ (October 10, 2005), Betsy Sussler, interview with Aryeh Lev Stollman.