Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes by Tamar Yellin
Reading Group Discussion Questions
1) The narrator of Tales of the Ten Lost Tribesis never identified, either by name or by gender. Why do you think the author decided to write in this way? What effect does it have on the narrative and on your relationship to the narrator?
2) The novel "takes its imagery from the legend of the ten tribes of Israel exiled by the Assyrians and lost to the pages of history beyond the River Sambatyon." How does this imagery work in the context of the novel and what do you think the author is trying to say by using this imagery?
3) "It is impossible for us to conclude a common ancestry for today's Jews, given their wide diversity of type. Such variety can only have been introduced by racial admixture, and to such a degree that one may be tempted to remark that modern Jews are not really Jews at all in any definable sense."
"On the other hand, taking the totality of evidence into consideration; given the wide distribution of Jews throughout the world; given their very diversity of appearance, it may be suggested, without incurring too violent an accusation of fantasising, that we are in a sense all Jews."
- Kugelmann, An Anthropology of the Jews
What is the implication of these two apparently contradictory statements for Jewish or other forms of identity?
4) The narrative is composed of a series of encounters. What do each of the people the narrator meets have in common and how do they differ? Are these people Jewish? Is their apparent Jewishness or non-Jewishness significant?
5) Which of the people the narrator encounters did you most relate to and empathise with? Which did you find least sympathetic? Why?
6) Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes is a 'mosaic novel,' a novel composed of a series of related stories which combine to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. What narrative or thematic elements bind the novel together into a whole? How effective do you find this structure and can you think of any other novels which work in this way?
7) The novel works on both a realistic and metaphorical level, and could be said to be magical realist. How did you approach the novel when you were reading it? Did it surprise you? What is the effect of this magical or hyper-real element?
8) Is Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes exclusively a book about Jewishness or do you think its theme is universal?
9) What are your thoughts about the finale of Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes? Where do you think it leaves the narrator, emotionally and psychologically? Is it an optimistic or pessimistic ending and what does it seem to say about the search for identity and belonging?
10) Tamar Yellin has described her three books, The Genizah at the House of Shepher, Kafka in Bronteland and Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes as "a sort of trilogy." "All three books were written simultaneously, and psychically and emotionally they all came from the same place." If you have read Yellin's other books, how do you see them relating to each other? What do they have in common and how do they differ?