The Mystics of Mile End
by Sigal Samuel
May 1, 2015
Longlisted, 2017 International Dublin Literary Award
Winner, 2016 Canadian Jewish Literary Award
Winner, 2016 Alberta Trade Fiction Book of the Year
Four distinct voices weave together the tale of a dysfunctional Montreal family obsessed with climbing the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life. This literary debut by Jewish Daily Forward editor Sigal Samuel is reminiscent of Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love and Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season.
The Meyer family lives in Mile End, home to a mashup of hipsters and Hasidic Jews, where down the street crazy Mr. Katz is building a tree out of plucked leaves, toilet paper rolls, and dental floss. When David, a skeptical professor of religion, is diagnosed with an unusual heart murmur, he becomes convinced that his heart is whispering divine secrets.
But when David’s frenzied attempts to ascend the Tree of Life lead to tragedy, his daughter Samara, who abruptly abandoned religion years earlier, believes it is up to her to finish what she started. As Samara’s brother documents her increasingly strange behaviour, it falls to next-door neighbour and Holocaust survivor Chaim Glassman to shatter the silence that divides the members of the Meyer family. But can he break through to them in time?
Long-held family secrets square off against faith and secularity in this remarkable debut novel, written with extraordinary heart and intelligence.
“Brimming with magic and mystery, The Mystics of Mile End tells the story of a family haunted by secrets and loss. Sigal Samuel fearlessly delves into the esoteric world of Jewish mysticism and its intersection with urban life in modern-day Montreal. Engaging, tender, intelligent, this is a remarkable debut from a promising new literary voice.” — Ayelet Tsabari, author of The Best Place on Earth
“The Mystics of Mile End is a smart and affecting debut. It’s a story that readers will carry with them long after they have finished the book. Sigal Samuel is an excellent writer, one who is bound to make a profound mark on the literary landscape.” — Steven Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo
“If Sigal Samuel was ever cautioned against tackling themes of mysticism, tradition, queer identity, death and recovery all in the same debut novel, she most triumphantly ignored that advice. Wonderfully ambitious, yet deftly crafted, The Mystics of Mile End is a rich and exuberant read. Dig in!” — Amber Dawn, author of Sub Rosa
“Sigal Samuel’s writing is vivid, smart, and charming — I can’t wait to read more from her.” — Zoe Whittall, author of Bottle Rocket Hearts
“An absorbing tale of one family’s search for meaning, The Mystics of Mile End is a beautiful and at times heartbreaking read.” — Anya Ulinich, author of Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel
“Sigal Samuel has written a poignant first novel in which her characters bravely confront faith and doubt, sex and death, despair and hope, and the mystery of why we are here.” — Cary Fagan, author of A Bird’s Eye
“A remarkable debut where varying perspectives on faith, family, and the search for meaning are explored by characters brought to life with a profound sense of empathy for what it means to be human.”
— Simon Van Booy, author of Everything Beautiful Began After
REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS
“The Mystics of Mile End (Freehand Books), a first novel by former Montrealer Sigal Samuel, captures the spirit of the duality of one of the world’s most vibrant neighborhoods. At once an exploration of Kabbalah, queer culture and physics, the book is a family saga that grapples with the tensions between science and faith. To discover a new writer with so much talent and potential is a singular thrill.” Jury comments, 2016 Canadian Jewish Literary Awards.
“As one juror put it, ‘it made my brain grow.’ It’s a book we all should read.” Jury comments, 2016 Alberta Trade Fiction Book of the Year.
“[a]n auspicious debut novel.” Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, June 17, 2015.
Interview with Writer’s Block, CJSW 90.9 FM, June 2015.
“Mystics is an entertaining and poignant read, and also a welcome and sympathetic portrait of a world that for many of us is close and yet all too far.” Montreal Review of Books, May 25, 2015.
“[Sigal Samuel] takes on writing about religion and mysticism from a youthful, modern perspective; she has writing about madness and cultishness down.” National Post, May 21, 2015.
Interview on The Storytelling Show, Co-op Radio, May 17, 2015.
“Samuel presents in equal measure the agonies and ecstasy of faith, a mysticism inadvertent and hard-won.” Globe and Mail, May 15, 2015.
“Art of Influence: Sigal Samuel on the money in the banana stand,” National Post, May 14, 2015.
“One the most notable aspects of the novel is how drastically the tone shifts with different narrators… taking the reader on a journey through innocence, cynicism, lust, delusion and madness.” Calgary Herald, May 12, 2015.
“The Mystics of Mile End explores mysticism as an everyday practice that infiltrates science, secularism, religion, grief, joy, mathematics, linguistics, and intellectualism… It is no small achievement that Samuel makes mysticism touchable.” — The Winnipeg Review, May 12, 2015.
“Throughout, the story has a sense of magic and mystery that compels the reader from page to page while fanning a small flame of eccentric melancholy, thanks to the neighbourhood’s many personalities.” — Yul.BUZZ, April 27, 2015.
“Blue Met Literary Festival: The Mile End in Fiction,” interview and panel on CBC Radio’s Cinq a Six, May 2, 2015.