A fabulous legend
Due to his interest in Judaism in general and in the Kabbalah in particular, Geert Kimpen came across the story of Chaim Vital: a littleknown sixteenth-century rabbi who recorded the ideas of Itschak Luria. Without Vital’s literary talent, no one would know about Itschak Luria, the founder of a Kabbalah school that still exists today.
Luria plays a major role in De kabbalist, but it is Chaim Vital who is the main character. Chaim is an exceptionally ambitious young man who dreams of a splendid future in Tsfat, a small town in North Galilee where the majority of Kabbalah interpreters live and study. Unfortunately, the road to success is strewn with more obstacles than he had expected.
When the great Kabbalah teacher, Cordovero, dies, Chaim expects to be appointed his successor. Instead, however, Chaim is informed that he must take lessons from Luria, who has the reputation of being a sham. The relationship between the men is a troubled one from the outset, and becomes even worse when Chaim takes a fancy to Luria’s daughter, Francesa, and Luria explicitly forbids him to love her. Kimpen devotes attention to Luria’s ideas, but De kabbalist is primarily an exciting novel about egoism and ambition, with many interesting supporting characters: the sensual but tragic Francesa, Josjoea, Chaim’s half-brother, consumed by resentment and forbidden passion, and the demonic rabbi Zimra, continually searching for the Ark of the Covenant that will make him the new Messiah. It is an enthralling debut.