The year is 1914. Aaron Greidinger, the seven-year-old son of a rabbi, lives in an apartment at number ten Krochmalna Street in Warsaw. Across the hall live Bashele and Zelig Schuldiener and their nine-year-old daughter, Shosha. Although Aaron is a prodigy of learning and Shosha is intellectually backward, he finds her attractive, and the Schuldieners’ apartment, as lavishly furnished as his own is sparse, becomes his second home.
This youthful idyll soon ends when the Schuldieners move to number seven Krochmalna Street, two blocks away. Under constant scrutiny because he is the rabbi’s son, Aaron no longer can visit Shosha. Other difficulties follow. World War I brings poverty and hunger, so that by 1917 the Greidingers are forced to move to Old Stykov in Galacia, where Aaron’s father and then his brother Moishe serve as rabbi.
While his family clings to traditional Judaism, Aaron does not. Impressed with the Haskalah, the Enlightenment, that comes to Poland with the war, he returns to Warsaw to earn his living as a writer. Here he begins an affair with Dora Stolnitz, a member of the Communist Party who regards the Soviet Union as the Promised Land. At the Writers’ Club he encounters the eccentric philosopher Morris Feitelzohn, author of Spiritual Hormones. At once lecherous, mystical, religious, and skeptical, he becomes Aaron’s spiritual and intellectual guide.
Morris also helps Aaron monetarily. Though he is...
(The entire section is 578 words.)