The travels of Benjamin of Tudela : through three continents in the twelfth century / Uri Shulevitz.
Booklist Reviews 2005 March #2
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 4-7. At first blush, the story of a bona fide twelfth-century Jewish wanderer might not seem the stuff of picture books, even for older readers. But this is so uniquely rendered that it proves, along with other recently published titles, that outstanding execution can draw readers to almost any subject. This fictional account follows Benjamin on a 14-year trip, which takes him from his home in Spain to historic cities of the ancient world: Rome, Babylon, Baghdad, and Jerusalem, among others. Illness, hunger, thirst, thieves, and assassins plague the journey. Yet there are also wonderful adventures, mystical stories, and fabulous sights, such as the pyramids. Told in an expansive first-person narrative, the book is filled with a bazaar's worth of detail, with unobtrusive sidebars explaining text references. In an extensive author's note, Shulevitz discusses how, beginning with Benjamin's actual diary in the original Hebrew, he faced the task of making the mostly factual reporting appealing by adding incidents found in other books. An extensive bibliography lists his sources, but, unfortunately, there are no specifics about the experiences he took from them. It's no surprise that Shulevitz, a Caldecott winner, provides splendid illustrations, but he outdoes himself here. The richly painted scenes, which vary in style and color according to their location, are highlighted by collage accents. Together with the evocative text, they capture the sweep of mysterious and faraway places. For other stories of intrepid travelers, see the adjacent Read-alikes column. ((Reviewed March 15, 2005)) Copyright 2005 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2005 Fall
The twelfth-century Spanish-Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela ranged around the greater Mediterranean world, chiefly interested in visiting Jerusalem and other, scattered Jewish communities. Shulevitz provides an eye-filling tour of the medieval Mediterranean with a tacit reminder, for non-Jews and Jews alike, of the breadth and constraints of Jewish life in the Diaspora. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2005 #2
The twelfth-century Spanish-Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela is a tantalizing subject: a proto-Marco Polo, it seems, who also wrote about his travels. But though Benjamin ranged around the greater Mediterranean world, taking in Rome, Constantinople, Baghdad, and Cairo, his chief interest was in visiting Jerusalem and other, scattered Jewish communities and, wherever he stopped, in collecting Jewish lore. In Rome, for instance, he sees on the Arch of Titus "the carvings of Roman soldiers carrying the sacred seven-branched menorah from the holy Temple in Jerusalem.... It was a victory for Rome, but for us...the beginning of our exile." The Jewish findings are the most interesting and, indeed, the truly distinctive aspect of Shulevitz's book. Yet he does not make them the focal point or connect them in any consistent way. The bulky first-person text, in turn, falls short as an absorbing narrative. Since Benjamin supplied few details of his travels, Shulevitz notes, he had to invent them; and he is not a notably vivid or dramatic writer. The imposing cities, the arduous travels between them, tend to sound alike. To look at, the book is most arresting, again, when we see cities of Jewish import -- like mighty, ruined Rome and surprisingly humble Jerusalem -- from Benjamin's perspective. Alongside, the splendors of Constantinople, Baghdad, and such register as mere spectacle. In sum: an eye-filling tour of the medieval Mediterranean with a tacit reminder, for non-Jews and Jews alike, of the breadth and constraints of Jewish life in the Diaspora. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
PW Reviews 2005 March #4
Shulevitz (Snow) accomplishes the daunting task of condensing the real-life epic journey of a medieval Jewish traveler who set out from his hometown of Tudela, Spain, in 1159 to see "as many places mentioned in the Bible as possible." Through a first-person narrative addressed to his friends and family upon his return, Benjamin vividly recounts "only... the most amazing places I saw and the most fascinating stories I heard" during his treacherous roughly 14-year trip. The highlights mirror the vast nature of the journey, through parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Chapter-like segments include brief factual asides about the destinations as well as Jewish history-both ancient (e.g., the discovery of the secret tombs of the Ancient Hebrew Kings in Jerusalem and Babylon's Tower of Babel) and during Benjamin's time (e.g., the treatment of Jews in those countries). Despite its breadth, Shulevitz keeps this lengthy tale's pace brisk, honing in on details sure to capture readers' imaginations, from a description of the smell of sailing ships ("Rat urine had soaked into the boat's wooden boards") to the sounds of medieval Rome to the colorful sight of a procession in Baghdad, led by the Caliph ("the `substitute,' of the prophet Muhammad"). Mixed-media illustrations incorporate various artistic styles and jeweled hues that punctuate expansive ocean and desert panoramas. Shulevitz bases this extraordinary work on Benjamin's own Book of Travels (and many other sources listed in an extensive bibliography). The history is especially fascinating given the current focus on the Middle East. Ages 8-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.