A Journey to the End of the Millennium
Set in the year 999, this is the story of Ben Attar, a Jewish merchant from Tangiers. His relationship with his nephew (and business partner) Abulafia has been threatened by his nephew’s remarriage to a Northern Jewess, who has forced Abulafia to repudiate his uncle because of his bigamous second marriage. Anxious to retain the trading partnership and to prove the worthiness of double-marriages, Attar travels to medieval Paris with his two wives, a Rabbi, and his Muslim business partner. The book explores the themes of religious and racial tolerance and the breakdown of these as the Christian Millennium approaches, foreshadowing the Crusades and the Inquisition to come as well as drawing parallels to our own time.
The language is often lyrical, but the entire novel is told in omniscient third person, which creates a distance between reader and events. The characters are each fleshed out in turn – literally. There is a strong emphasis on the sexuality of the characters, particularly the men.
Although a glimpse of Jewish culture at the end of the first millennium is provided, the potential of the historical setting is never fully realized. Tidbits of detail are tossed in, but it is not quite enough to give the reader the feeling that she or he is experiencing medieval Europe. By trying to create parallels between the Middle Ages and now, the novel was not able to fully settle in and explore the milieu in which it was set; this was disappointing.