The Season of Glass an ambitious yet fascinating read
Margaret von Klemperer reviews Rahla Xenopoulos's fourth novel
Published in the Witness (08/04/2019)
The roots of Rahla Xenopoulos’s fourth novel lie in the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition which tells of righteous people who will warn and save the world at a time of crisis.
In Xenopolous’s telling, these are twins, of whom the female child is the miraculous one while her brother is her protector. And guarding them, in each generation when they appear, is a mentor. These three will be reborn at times of crisis for their people.
And so the story starts in the long ago past in Ethiopia where the small Jewish community is under threat. The priest, Zadoc, guards and guides twins Gudit and Sissay from their birth on the night of an eclipse until their tragic end. But Zadoc knows that they, and he, will return.
They next appear as wealthy Viennese Jews on the eve of the Holocaust as again their world heads into disaster, though enough can be saved to continue the tradition.
From there, we travel to Cochin in India where growing greed and materialism shake the society. Next, we are in SA in 1976 on the eve of the Soweto uprising.
Then back in time to Spain at the time of the Inquisition where the twins’ protector is Black Caezar, a pirate based in the Caribbean. Again the twins won’t save the world, but will put a brake on evil. And then we move into a distant future where, following some kind of man-caused apocalypse, people live in pods, all connected by a grid, a kind of super-internet that controls thought, memory and imagination. And here, in this all-too-plausible world, perhaps the miraculous child will fulfil her destiny, once again in Ethiopia.
It is an extraordinarily ambitious novel, moving with assurance between its different times. Xenopoulos suits her style to each period, and while I found the simplified spelling of the distant future an irritant, maybe that is indeed where we are heading.
Perhaps a little judicious pruning would have been a good idea – both the first section and the tale set in Cochin are overlong. But beautiful writing and a clever and fascinating idea carry the book.
- The Season of Glass is published by Umuzi, an imprint of Penguin Random House