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From Joseph Skibell's A Blessing on the Moon, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

It all happened so quickly. They rounded us up, took us out to the forests. We stood there, shivering, like trees in uneven rows, and one by one we fell. No one was brave enough to turn and look. Guns kept cracking in the air. Something pushed into my head. It was hard, like a rock. I fell. But I was secretly giddy. I thought they had missed me. When they put me in the ground, I didn't understand. I was still strong and healthy. But it was useless to protest. No one seemed to hear the sounds I made or see my thrashings, and anyway, I didn't want to draw attention to myself, because then they would have shot me. 

I was lying in a pit with all my neighbors, true, but I was ecstatic. I felt lighter than ever before in my life. It was all I could do not to giggle.

And later, as dusk gathered, I climbed out of the grave, it was so shallow, and I ran through the forests. Nobody saw me. I ran with the dirt still in my mouth. I had to spit it out as I ran.

When I got to our village, everything was gone. A dozen workmen were lifting all the memories into carts and driving off. "Hey! Hey!" I shouted after them. "Where are you going with those?" But they wouldn't stop. In front of every house were piles of vows and promises, all in broken pieces. How I could see such things, I cannot tell you. 

A villager and his family were moving into our house on Noniewicza Street. Crouching behind a low wall, I watched them, a man and his sons, sweating through their vests. They packed and unpacked their crates, their shirtsleeves rolled up high, carting furniture in and out of our courtyard. Now and then, one would leave off to smoke, only to be derided by the others for his idleness.

I was afraid if they saw me, they would come after me. Still, I couldn't stand to see what they were doing. I called to them, my voice escaping on its own. I was shouting. I shouted their names. I couldn't help it. But they said nothing, merely continued with their hauling and their crates.

So I touched them. I grabbed onto their shoulders, I pleaded with them. At that, they crossed themselves and shuddered. They muttered their oaths. They were peasants. Superstitious. But otherwise, there was no response. And I realized I was dead. I was dead. But why was I not in the World to Come?

New York Times Review (December 28, 2001) of A Blessing On the Moon:

Something Like Hell


When Chaim Skibelski is shot dead and tossed into a pit along with all the other Jewish citizens of a small town in wartime Poland, his trials are only beginning. Scrambling up from this mass grave, the spectral Chaim wanders the countryside (at times guided by his murdered rabbi, who has turned into a crow), his afterlife a remarkable journey of discovery that leads a long way from a peaceful, nurturing eternity. At first harrowing, Joseph Skibell's debut novel, A BLESSING ON THE MOON, proceeds to startle and challenge as it refuses to exploit the ready pathos of the Holocaust, testing its hero's endurance and the reader's expectations. Chaim's journey illuminates the horror of history through the energy and wisdom of fantasy and myth; scene after scene is rich with emotion, humor and invention. Daring in its haunting, often painful honesty, dense in thoughtful observation and unsparing incident, the novel aims for literary status while at the same time proving itself an unlikely page-turner. An act of commemoration (as many as 18 members of the author's family perished in the Holocaust), ''A Blessing on the Moon'' is also a confirmation that no subject lies beyond the grasp of a gifted, committed imagination.

Read The Berkley Books Reading Guide for A Blessing on the Moon:


Read the The Algonquin Books Reading Guide for A Blessing on the Moon:


Read two reviews of Blessing on the Moon



Read an interview with Joseph Skibell about A Blessing on the Moon


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