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The Cure by Sonia Levitin
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The Cure

by Sonia Levitin

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This is a telling look at a possible future of humanity; a true SF novel. ( )
  swampygirl | Dec 9, 2013 |
Living While Jewish in the Middle Ages

* Caution: Minor spoilers ahead! *

It is The Year of Tranquility 2047, and humanity has eradicated violence, poverty, and bigotry – at the expense of diversity and emotion. If “diversity begets hostility” and “passion begets evil,” as the United Social Alliance Elders believe, then the only path to utopia is conformity: “Conformity begets Harmony begets Tranquility begets Peace begets Universal Good. (Shout Praises!)” The result is a rather sterile society devoid of family, love, intimacy, history, and art, a community in which all members think as one (and indeed, don’t seem to think about much at all).

To achieve this “Universal Good,” years of genetic engineering and selective breeding have made the human brain compliant; standardized, even. Babies are created in batches, each male paired with a female twin with whom he becomes mated for life. Though the siblings live, work, and parent together (if they so choose), sex is prohibited, a relic of the past. Instead, when females turn 16, their eggs are harvested (a mandate euphemistically referred to as “the process”), so that the next generation can be made in a lab. Touching is taboo, and to further emphasize the sense of oneness, citizens wear smooth, featureless masks at all times. Not even twins are allowed to gaze upon one another’s faces.

Disease and sickness have mostly been eradicated, but in lieu of immortality, citizens can choose to be “recycled” (i.e., euthanized) at any time. The maximum allowed lifespan is 120 years, after which time recycling is mandatory. If one is found to be “deviant” – a nonconforming thinker – most likely he or she will be recycled. A select few are offered the option of “The Cure.”

Gemm 16884, with his love of music, vividly imaginative dreams, and a gait out of step with his peers, is one of the few people unlucky enough to exhibit random variations in his genetic makeup. Because his cerebellum is abnormally developed – by United Social Alliance standards, that is – Gemm is “receptive to rhythm and tone.” A difference that’s deemed both deviant and dangerous – and punishable by death.

Gemm’s offered the possibility of “The Cure,” which he readily accepts, if only to spare his twin Gemma 16884 from being recycled as well. (An alternative preferable to being left alone, twins often choose to be recycled along with their siblings.) With a simple download to his brain, Gemm is transported to Strasbourg, Germany, circa 1348 AD. Here he becomes Johannes, a 16-year-old Jewish boy, son of Menachem the moneylender, and an aspiring musician. In a high-tech version of negative reinforcement, the Elders hope to “correct” Gemm’s behavior by paring music with pain – using a real-life example pulled from the pages of history.

As the Black Death tears its way through Europe, the Jews are quickly scapegoated. Rumors spread that the Jews – all Jews – have conspired to poison wells throughout Europe, thus spreading the pestilence. Spurious allegations are quickly confirmed by confessions obtained from suspected Jews under torture. Across the continent, Jews are expelled from town; rounded up and tortured; and, eventually, massacred: burned at the stake like witches.

Fear is only part of it; greed, too, propels gentiles to turn against their Jewish neighbors: “The townspeople – nobles and tradesmen and peasants alike – divide up the spoils: The gentry claim the houses, and the others take what is left […] Everyone is satisfied, the debtors most of all, for when the lender is gone, all debts are canceled.” (page 222) Of course, Christians are prohibited by their religion from lending money, and all the moneylenders in Strasbourg are Jewish. Commerce in Strasbourg is “well regulated”; save for lending, only one practicing Jew per profession is allowed. That means one Jewish doctor, one Jewish butcher, and Jewish leather maker, and so on. With few avenues of employment open to them, many turn to moneylending. Though Johannes’s family is far from rich, they are better off than many. All Jews in Strasbourg are required to pay extra taxes, including a bribery for protection to the Bishop. Yet the bribes pale in comparison to the riches that can be seized from an accused Jew – providing powerful motive for this legalized mob theft.

The story takes Gemm – and the readers – through one year in the life of Johannes. We rejoice with him when he finds love with neighbor Margarite; mourn the passing of his family members; and fear for his safety as the pestilence creeps ever closer to Strasbourg. While his flute is a great source of comfort and joy, it also provides the soundtrack for unimaginable suffering and pain. When his uncle is murdered in a riot at the trade fair, Johannes blames himself – rather than the flagellants rampaging through town, inflaming the masses – for playing his flute on the Sabbath. And when the gentiles of Strasbourg finally turn against their Jewish neighbors, the rabbi’s final request is granted, and the death march to the cemetery scaffolding is attended by musicians.

In The Cure, author Sonia Levitin has created a unique blend of science and historical fiction that’s truly heartbreaking. While many books have concentrated on the oppression of Jews in the 1930s and 40s, The Cure goes back even further, harnessing the fear of the plague and exposing the raw anti-Semitism of the day. Time and again, gentiles ask Jews (with a straight face) where they hide their tails and horns. Jewish citizens are forced to wear special hats to identify themselves – at a time when simply existing as a Jew was a near-criminal offense, punishable by beating or death. While Johannes and his family briefly consider fleeing as the town’s sentiments turn against them, they’ve nowhere to go: their people aren’t welcome anywhere in Europe. Even their few gentile friends offer little help, lest they be tarred and branded as “Jew lovers.”

Even more powerful is the epilogue, which reveals that the events in The Cure are very much rooted in history. On February 14, 1349, the Jews of Strasbourg were rounded up, herded into the cemetery, and burned alive as the town’s musicians “played dancing tunes so that they could enter the presence of God with singing.” The pestilence reached Strasbourg two weeks later, proving the town’s “sacrifice” in vain. Even so, “few expressed remorse or altered their thinking.” Strasbourg was just one of approximately 300 Jewish communities destroyed during this time. Thousand of Jews – including children like Johannes and Rochele, Magarite and Rosa – were murdered by raging mobs.

The only part of the story that leaves something to be desired is the ending, which wraps up rather abruptly and tidily. Two days later, and I still can’t figure out whether I’d call it “satisfying” – which most likely means no.

4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 on Amazon.

http://www.easyvegan.info/2013/10/09/the-cure-by-sonia-levitin/ ( )
  smiteme | Sep 4, 2013 |
A stunning work that moves in time from a sterile future civilization to the rich but dangerous world of medieval Jewry - and back. ( )
  STBA | Dec 10, 2009 |
Levitin gives herself a huge challenge in this book as she combines a dystopian future with references to Brave New World with a in depth look at the life of the Jewish community in Strasbourg during the 1500s and the time of the Black Death. The story follows Gemm, who is a boy from a future where all emotions except serene joy have been suppressed, everyone wears masks and there is no form of art or creative expression. The story follows his journey as he hears music and his creative urges are suppressed by The Cure which forces him to experience the life of Johannes, a Jew in Strasbourg. Overall the historical sections are a more satisfying read since Levitin has done careful research into the traditions and prejudices of the times, which helps each moment feel real and at some points quite terrifying. Sadly the whole book does not live up the promise of this middle section because the ending with Gemm does not hold the same emotional redemption as the end of the Johannes' section. This book presents a good opportunity to discuss various types of prejudice from overt to more insidious ones and also could be a gateway into learning more about history. ( )
  katekf | Oct 2, 2009 |
This book is a wonderful short novel, but is about sixty pages too long. The futuristic stuff is terrible, and I won't get into it other than a person from the future is made to relive the life of a Jewish musician during the plague. This part, which makes up most of the book, works. It is a real medieval world and a totally absorbing look at how a Jewish community would be treated at the time. This of course brings up why the futuristic plot is there. It's not there to make the book publishable, because the historical plot alone would have been easily accepted. Was it so reluctant readers would pick it up? This is possible. If one is not a devoted reader and especially if one is not interested in history, one would be drawn in to a story about the future. Whatever the reason, this book is perfect if you flip right to the first chapter set in the past (it is easy to tell from the first part as it is now in the first person) and as soon as that ends (you'll know when it does) put it down.
1 vote sister_ray | Jan 10, 2008 |
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To my grandmothers, Lucie Goldstein and Rosa Wolff, among the many martyrs. You are loved and cherished and remembered.
LJCRS Book Fair Selection 5761
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Again that dream!
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 038073298X, Paperback)

It is the year 2407, when everyone wears a mask to emphasize conformity, and tranquility has been implemented via genetics, drugs, and therapy. It is also the year 1348, the time of the Black Death in Strasbourg, France, and 16-year-old Gemm has been sent back from the future to cure his nonconformist desire to create music. In the past he is known as Johannes, the son of a wealthy moneylender in a small Jewish community that finds comfort and strength in the daily rituals of Judaic faith. But as the plague sweeps the land, terrified people in city after city scapegoat the Jews as the cause of their problems. Officials find it convenient to have someone to blame, and realize that they can wipe out their debts by torturing and burning the moneylenders and their families--but they play music all the while to make the horrible scene less dismal.

Sonia Levitin, whose exceptional young adult novels are often based in Jewish culture and identity (Escape from Egypt and The Singing Mountain, among others), draws on historical fact for this story's powerful emotional impact. The vivid details of ghetto life in the Middle Ages--the Sabbath peace, the enforced humiliations of moneylenders, Johannes' joy at his betrothal to his love Margarite--make the final holocaust scene overwhelmingly real, with layers of meaning that apply to our own times. The futuristic framing device adds additional flavor, evocative of Lois Lowry's The Giver. This is a book that both fantasy fans and pragmatic young readers will devour, and one that's rich with thoughtful ideas about racism, conformity, and the lessons of history. (Ages 10 and older) --Patty Campbell

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:14 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A sixteen-year-old boy living in 2407 collides with the past when he finds himself in Strasbourg in 1348 confronting the anti-Semitism that sweeps through Europe during the Black Plague.

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