Sunday, May 22, 2011

Conversations with Rabbi Small

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Conversations with Rabbi Small (Fawcett, 1982).

Most used bookstores will file a copy of this in with their mysteries, and why shouldn't they? If the store is worth a shuck, they probably have a few of Harry Kemelman's rabbi novels there already, and any clerk who's doing their job has seen them filed in that section. I thought that this was another detective story, too. I was quite mistaken.

In this novel, a young woman goes to Rabbi Small hoping that he will convert her to Judaism. He apologizes that he does not "do" conversions. She, a Christian, plans to marry a non-practicing Jewish scientist and gain the approval of his parents. Rabbi Small asks to meet the fellow, and over the course of the rest of the book, they spend several evenings just talking about Judaism and what sets it apart from Christianity. The book is a couple of hundred pages of philosophical and theological discussion, which will either try your patience or keep you engrossed in a study of Jewish culture. Eventually, it becomes clear that the crafty Rabbi Small has an ulterior motive: he has no interest in converting the bride-to-be, but he does want the scientist to learn that their faith is as based on logic and reason as his studies.

I didn't enjoy it. I kept waiting for something to happen. I kept flipping ahead twenty or thirty pages and exclaiming "They're still talking?!" If you can handle a book in which three characters do nothing but converse, then you might enjoy the experimentation, but I'm not one of them. I am, similarly, disinterested in reading two hundred and fifty pages of Inspector Morse talking about real ale, Father Brown talking about the priesthood, Sherlock Holmes talking about bees, Nero Wolfe talking about saucisse minuit, or even Lord Peter Wimsey talking about collecting first editions, just in case anybody had any clever ideas.

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