Winner of Haddasah Magazine's 2003 Harold U. Ribalow Prize for Jewish Fiction
"The Illuminated Soul is a beautiful book about the endurance of the past, the fragility of the present, and the healing power of quiet love."
— Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader

Click here for the book club reading guide for The Illuminated Soul

"Aryeh Lev Stollman has forged a uniquely Jewish perspective on the classic mind-body problem. His new book, The Illuminated Soul, is an admirable novel of ideas that grapples with the links between memory and the physiology of the brain as well as between information and imagination. A neuroradiologist by profession, Stollman possesses a lucid writing style that reflects his knowledge of original Hebrew texts as well as other, more esoteric sources...The Illuminated Soul is a profound novel that sheds light on holy patterns and their endless confusions. But it is also a sturdy narrative that supports a strong and varied cast of characters while contemplating the place of sentience within the brain's function, and staking out that elusive stretch of middle ground between faith and science."
— Judith Bolton-Fasman, Boston Globe

"Stollman is one of those writers who can not only create a convincing child but can crawl into his skin, unlearning the things adults know and becoming, again, a kind of foreigner in the world. Joseph's adolescent observations of the stranger are some of the best moments here; the day Eva arrives, dressed like a movie star and revealing her enormous erudition, Joseph notices the way she ''placed one foot in front of the other, carefully, as if she were crossing a narrow bridge from a mysterious and enchanted world we knew nothing about, into our small and quiet one.""
The New York Times Book Review
"A beautiful work of art."
The Seattle Times
". . . Like its predecessor, The Far Euphrates (Riverhead, 1997), The Illuminated Soul gives us a simple, emotionally powerful fable made resonant by the depth of textual allusion over which its own language — fresh, clear, explicit — moves like bright water . . . These are beautifully crafted works — not because they dazzle us with the author's virtuosity, not even because they give us human stories that illuminate our own obscure narratives — but because, in their simplicity and freshness, they open windows in the mind through which the voice of ancient wisdom can still be heard.
The Forward
". . . In Aryeh Lev Stollman's finely crafted second novel, The Illuminated Soul, the author weaves connections between a man's childhood and his adult life while also exploring the relationship between the brain and the soul, and introducing the reader to little-known aspects of Jewish history and mysticism. . . . Ultimately, though, The Illuminated Soul is not really a novel about science but about the pull of the past over the present and the profound effects that one person can have on another. As such, it succeeds beautifully. Stollman's simple but elegiac prose, his deft characterizations and his knowledge of Jewish lore and history make The Illuminated Soul a novel with a big heart and, yes, soul." Read more of this San Francisco Chronicle review
— Sarah Coleman, The San Francisco Chronicle

"In this rich effort, Stollman returns to the setting of his first novel, The Far Euphrates. Another Jewish family, this time the Ivris (a widowed mother and her two sons, teenaged Joseph and ten-year-old Asa), lives an unremarkable life in Windsor, Ontario, in the late 1940s. Things change, however, when a stranger rents a room from the Ivris. The drifter, Eva Laquedem, fled Prague at the outbreak of World War II and has been on the move ever since. She has in her possession an illuminated 15th-century Hebrew manuscript known as the Augsburg Miscellany, which her family has owned for centuries and for which she has risked her life, having smuggled it out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Narrated by the adult Joseph, now an accomplished neuroanatomist, the story depicts Eva as a beautiful muse who left as suddenly as she came. The richness of Torah study, the ancient languages of the Near East, and the opening up of one's soul are some of the gifts that the mysterious boarder bestows on the Ivris and the reader. Stollman's first novel was an American Library Association Notable Book, and this tale of people searching for family values is sure to have similar success. Highly recommended for all libraries and for teen readers as well."
— Molly Abramowitz, Library Journal
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"Aryeh Lev Stollman, the author of The Far Euphrates, possesses a wondrous narrative voice that is by turns delicate, patient, searching and unabashedly spiritual. Jamaica Kincaid has spoken of the 'prayer-like rhythms' of his work; indeed, an ancient, biblical quality carries along his tales of modern Jewish life in remote Windsor, Ontario, where the taint of history blows in like a bitter north wind." Read more of this Time Out NY review
— Anderson Tepper, Time Out NY

"In his new offering, Stollman returns to familiar ground, creating another, ostensibly simple story that grips the reader with its mystical complexity and beautifully developed characters....Stollman's formidable skill and lyrical style make this novel fascinating... His enthusiastic readers will undoubtedly opt for more novels as they eagerly await the next book from this highly gifted author."
— Morton I. Teicher, The Jerusalem Post
"With many narrative layers, Aryeh Lev Stollman creates a touching novel of longing, remembrance, and even the sense of life."
Berliner Morgenpost

Click here to read the author speaking about The Illuminated Soul in a Q&A piece


  • American Library Association Notable Book
  • National Book Critics Circle Notable Book
  • Winner of a Wilbur Award
  • Winner of a Lambda Literary Award
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review Recommended Book of the Year

"Affecting" — Los Angeles Times

"Luminous" — New York Daily News

"Lyrical" — Time Out New York

"Strikingly original" — Forward


Click here to read an Amazon.com essay by the author about The Far Euphrates

Click here to read an excerpt from the Hebrew translation of The Far Euphrates

"Radiant. . . remarkable both for Stollman's eloquently understated prose and for the ease with which he constructs his artful plot. . . At the heart of The Far Euphrates lie the vexed questions raised by the Holocaust and its legacy: how we must try to solve for ourselves the riddle of God's existence and cultivate a sense of mercy in an unforgiving age." Read more of this New York Times review
— The New York Times Book Review

Click here to read Bernhard Schlink's German-language review in the Berliner Tagesspiegel.

 
"[The Far Euphrates] glides beguilingly between childhood and adulthood, between secrecy and candor, between the world we can see and the unknowable beyond. . . This is a coming-of-age tale told in simple, uncluttered language and scenes so artfully crafted that they seem artless. His characters speak to us with authority because they are at once wonderfully vivid and wonderfully mysterious. In its quirky, understated beauty, The Far Euphrates resembles another fine first novel, Elizabeth McCracken's The Giant's House, published last year. But the book is also a coming-home-to-religion story. Given the simple eloquence of its prose, its assured storytelling and its subtle grasp of Jewish family life and heritage, it's more kin to the fiction of the late, great Bernard Malamud." Read more of this New York Newsday review
— New York Newsday
"Stollman writes beautifully, in a rich, clear, metphorical language energized by an awareness of how thoroughly the quotidian is infused with, and animated by, the magical. . . Alexander, the dreamy hero of Aryeh Stollman's luminous first novel, The Far Euphrates, must learn to shoulder the burden of a weighty, terrifying and precious legacy — an inheritance combining elements of the spiritual and the corporeal, the mysterious and the mundane, of fantasy and of a history more horrifying than our darkest imaginings. . . Early in the book, Alexander's father tells him that "God's sweet letters were also the powerful tools whereby He created light and everything in the universe." And we finish The Far Euphrates confirmed in our belief in the religious — the mystical — power of words." Read more of this New York Daily News review
— Francine Prose, The New York Daily News
"A fascinating new voice in contemporary fiction."
— Judith Rossner
"To read this wonderful book, with its prayerlike rhythms, with its beautiful pacing of a familiar tale, holds a reward for the reader. . . We have just met a great writer."
— Jamaica Kincaid
"Charting the flowering of the human soul is heady material for any writer, but in his beautiful first novel Stollman has done just that . . . The novel is filled with eccentric characters and detail, but it is Stollman's gorgeous prose — liturgically somber yet musically resonant — that moves us."
— Out Magazine
"Affecting. . .his prose functions rather like an X-ray in probing the innermost reaches of body and soul." Read more of this Los Angeles Times review
— Los Angeles Times
"[Stollman] belongs to what appears to be a new, younger generation of Jewish writers in North America finally emerging from beneath the shadows of those earlier giants — Malamud, Bellow, Roth, Ozick, Richler. And they are doing so not by trying to produce monumental fictions, but by offering works in a minor key, their 'lesser' ambitions compensated for by a concentration on style and a subtlety of thought and feeling. The Far Euphrates is, first of all, beautifully written. Told in the elegiac voice of a man remembering his childhood, its lines resonate with delicate pathos."
— The (Toronto) Globe and Mail
"Reminiscent of a Hasidic tale in its deceptively quiet, gentle tone, this masterful debut offers up its darkest secrets with heartbreaking delicacy. . . Though steeped in religious sensibility and learning, this warm, contemplative novel works on its readers' most visceral sympathies and fears." Read more of this Publishers Weekly review
— Publishers Weekly (starred)
"Stollman's writing is graceful and understated, its rhythms have been aptly described as prayerlike. His characters are memorable. . . [I]t's a novel seeped in Jewish learning."
— The Jewish Week
"A ruminative and wonderfully moving first novel about a sheltered boyhood. . . A series of losses, and the acceptance of — and accommodations to — loss elevate the lyrical final pages into both a thoroughly satisfying elegy for all the things that cannot remain and an affirmation of our right and need to believe in the essential permanence of things and of the spirit." Read more of this Kirkus Reviews review
— Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Alexander's small world is delightfully peopled by uncommon folk. . . Highly recommended." Read more of this Library Journal review
— Library Journal
"[A] wonderful debut from a philosophical and poetical writer who takes the reader on a tour of life's age-old questions by a most delightful and unusual route."
— L.A. Weekly Literary Supplement
"Stollman conjures up an intense nostalgia for a moment before loss, movement, and human history began. Stollman creates this aching mood exquisitely. In his hands even the most mundane details of Alexander's world speak to this central metaphysical dilemma. . . Stollman has shown he knows his way around the far reaches of human imagination. . ."
— The Village Voice
"[A] highly accomplished work of fiction, one whose symbolic richness and sometimes astonishing narrative turns are the mark of an unusually resourceful writer. . . [Its] beautifully rendered prose, unadorned yet often evocatively poetic. . . seeks to make real the mysteries of revelation and, at the book's end, culminates in prayer. . . The Far Euphrates announces the arrival of an exceptionally fine writer, whose first novel makes a strikingly original contribution to contemporary literature and, in its own appealingly understated way, lifts the level of recent American-Jewish writing to a new plane."
— Forward
"[A] delicate first novel. . . the elegant confidence of both language and narrative structure suggest a mature voice. . . a major new voice in fiction may well be among us."
— BookForum
"The Far Euphrates is a beautiful, riddling examination of familial pain and fear and religious passion. . . Stollman takes on large subjects in a small, heightened setting. In lesser hands, his quiet opera would descend into melodrama. Stollman doesn't even skirt that possibility." Read more of this Amazon.com review
— Amazon.com
"The Far Euphrates is a beautiful book. Its radiance is not of the sun but of the moon: delicate, mournful, mysterious."
— Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
"The way the past grips the present, the way secrets hold families together and isolate them: these dilemmas are the haunted heart of Stollman's compelling first novel. What a delicate and compassionate craftsman he is!"
— J.D. McClatchy