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
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
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
By PATRICK GILES
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
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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