In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…
In her head, the letters swirled…
Before the beginning, was the alef-bet…
Mira Z. Amiras’s Malkah’s Notebook starts there—in the beginning, before the beginning, in her head, in a swirl of letters, in a universe filled with animate letters, mystical humans, a magical cat, and dusty libraries. Questions open doors, and doors lead to more doors and more questions.
Where does it end? Wiser readers than I will know how to answer that question. I’m not sure where it ends. I’m not sure it ends.
For anyone steeped in Kabbalah, familiar active letters dart into new cosmologies. For anyone steeped in cosmology, the antics of those letters introduce fresh questions about the world. For everyone else, and probably for those mystics and seers too, Malkah’s Notebook will offer nested challenges, like so many matryoshka dolls, ornately painted mysteries lurking inside mysteries lurking inside mysteries. As much is written between the letters and in the spaces inside the letters as in the letters themselves.
The letters. Oy, the letters. Pesky little devils, they vex Malkah and lure her into unplannable journeys—around the world, yes, but also through the history of thought, and through the history of history.
Dazzled readers might take refuge in Josh Baum’s gorgeous renderings of these worlds. Astute readers might fall into further abysses. Repeat readers will find new tales hiding, unremarked, in the delicate nooks and crannies of Josh’s artwork. Puzzled readers might simply flip through the pages, blinding themselves with the wealth of beauty crowding every other page—for this is at once a chapter book and a picture book, with lush images every recto, spare prose every verso—wallowing in meaning that readers of mere words will miss.
Malkah’s Notebook rewards study. If you know Mira’s background—daughter of museum founders, sibling of museum, teacher of Hebrew, anthropologist doing fieldwork in North Africa, founder of a Middle East Studies department, professor of sold out “Magic, Science, and Religion” classes, puzzler of blogging partner—this will come as no surprise.
If, after all this from me, you still don’t know what to expect from Malkah’s Notebook, then I think perhaps you’ve just about got the right idea.