Azriel (AZH-reel), the only survivor of the Kolvillàg pogrom. Bound by an oath not to reveal how he survived or how the rest of his village was massacred in the pogrom, he wanders from city to city in central Europe as a Jewish Na-venadvik. Others see him as a saint or a madman, a bringer of deep understanding and insight to people of whatever class or age he encounters. Even as he sees all in the lives of others, no one knows the despair of the secret he bears until he counters that hopelessness by telling his story to a suicidal young man. By transmitting his community’s history to another person, he saves the young man to live as a messenger of truth and frees himself to return to Kolvillàg and die.
Moshe (moh-ZHAY), a brilliant mystic and mentor to Azriel. Considered a madman by his Jewish community, he wears rags and lives a solitary existence in the woods until he is persuaded to marry the homely Leah out of pity. His entrancing eyes and ability to see into the thoughts and dreams of people frighten them away from him, and Azriel becomes his only student and disciple. As the tension leading to the pogrom builds, he offers himself as a martyr to save the Jewish community and is imprisoned for the murder of the gentile Yancsi. In an address in the synagogue, he binds the Jews of Kolvillàg to a vow of silence over the atrocities of the coming pogrom in the belief that by refusing to preserve the history of suffering, the suffering itself might be halted.
Shmuel (ZHMEW-ehl), the father of Azriel and chronicler of Kolvillàg’s history in the Pinkas. A strong believer in...
(The entire section is 729 words.)