After Rabbi Isaac Kornfeld commits suicide in an obscure city park, the unnamed narrator, his lifelong friend, wants to know why the rabbi has hanged himself, and visits the site. The narrator explains that his father and Isaac’s were nominal friends who were, in fact, scholarly enemies. Both Isaac and the narrator attended the same seminary, but the latter dropped out, earning the silence and the hatred of his unforgiving father. Although they remained affectionate, if distant, friends, the two young men were perfect opposites. Isaac became a brilliant Talmudic scholar, published widely, married a Holocaust survivor, and had seven daughters. The childless narrator never returned to the seminary, became a furrier and later a bookseller, and divorced his gentile wife.
The narrator visits Isaac’s widow, Sheindel Kornfeld, hoping to learn the reason for the tragedy. What he finds is a contemptuous, tearless widow who queries the bookseller concerning Isaac’s interest in books on plants. The narrator is shocked by Sheindel’s bold declaration that Isaac was never a Jew. She then relates her husband’s increasingly bizarre behavior: his sudden insistence on lengthy picnics, the numerous second-rate fairy tales that he wrote and later burned, and his seemingly inexplicable passion for public parks. The narrator’s first visit to Sheindel concludes when she commands him to study Isaac’s small notebook in order to solve the mystery. In effect, he...
(The entire section is 551 words.)