Author M.J. Rose has new well-reviewed book out, a novel of suspense called The Reincarnationist. M.J. agreed to do a little guest post for us. I haven't read the book yet, but I hope to soon, perhaps over Sukkot. In this guest post, M.J. tells us the eerie story of how she became interested in reincarnation and why, after years of trying, she finally wrote this book:
The family was gathered around and my great great grandfather who was a Kabbalistic scholar was saying a prayer over the wine when I chirped up and told him something about a Seder he’d had in home in Russia when he was a child.
I was three. I didn’t even know what Russia was.
But, my mother later told me, because I don’t remember it, he never finished the prayer.
I apparently had told him something that he’d never told anyone about, an embarrassing moment in the life of a 9 year-old boy, buried deep inside this 88 year-old man.
He became convinced I was a reincarnation of someone in his past which considering his study of the Kabbala was not that strange. The mystical teachings explain that we are born over and over, returning to learn in this life, the lesson we didn’t learn in the last.
There are many Jewish fables about greedy wealthy landowners reincarnated as beggars to learn about generosity and shrewish wives reborn and kind husbands to learn about love.
That night at the Seder, my mother was disturbed. A very sane and logical woman who was very much a secular Jew was pretty much horrified at the turn in the events of the evening. She argued with her grandfather that I’d overheard the story or it was a coincidence and he argued right back that she was wrong and I was here again, in his life again for a reason. He was also a Talmudic scholar and an expert arguer. He won.
After more incidents, my mother started to study reincarnation and spoke to several other Kabbalists and came to believe what my great great grandfather believed: that in a past life, I’d been in Russia and had been part of his family and was here for a reason.
Reincarnation was an idea I grew up with that my mom and I talked about often and researched together as her interest in it continued.
For years, I wanted to write a novel about someone like my mother – who was sane and logical – who started out skeptical but came to believe in reincarnation. But I was afraid if I did people would think I was a “woo woo weirdo”.
I tried to start the book ten years ago after my mother died but I was too close to the subject and missed her too much to be able to explore it objectively. Every once in while the idea would start to pester me again but I still stayed away from it.
Then a few years ago on the exact anniversary of my mom’s death my niece, who was a toddler at the time, said some very curious things to me about my mother and I – things she really couldn’t have known -- and the pestering became an obsession.
Josh Ryder, the main character has my mom’s initials, her spirit and her curiosity and like her, he’s a photographer. But there the similarities end.
When Josh starts having flashbacks that simply can’t be explained any other way except as possible reincarnation memories he goes to New York to study with Dr. Malachai Samuels -- a scientist and Reincarnationist who works with children helping them deal with past life memories.
In the process Josh gets caught up in the search for ancient memory tools that may or may not physically enable people to reach back and discover who they were and who they are.
The book has garnered stars from both Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, People Magazine and is a BookSense pick for September. I think of all my books, this is the one my mom would be the most proud of which is fitting since it’s really the one she inspired.
M.J. sent us a brief excerpt from the book. You can read it after the jump …
Excerpt from THE REINCARNATIONIST by M.J. Rose
While Josh waited, he lifted the camera to his eye and looked through the viewfinder. As he snapped shots of the woods bordering the site to the right and the landscape off to the left, the sound of the shutter reverberated in his ears, like an old friend’s greeting.
Right now he preferred the world framed in this oblong box, all peripheral excess and activities cut out. Reframing the image, Josh went for an even wider shot and saw a break in the line of trees that suggested an opening into the forest.
As if he were standing there, not sitting in the car, he could smell the pine sap – fresh and sharp – and feel the green-blue shadowed space undulated around him. No. He didn’t want to leave this present, not now.
Struggling, Josh brought himself back, to the car, to the metal camera case in his hands. To the smell of the stale cigarette smoke.
Rome and its environs were triggering more episodes than he’d ever had before in one time period. What was happening?
He knew what Malachai would say. Josh was experiencing past life regressions. But despite these multiple memory lurches, Josh remained skeptical. It made more sense that reincarnation was a panacea, a comforting concept that explained the existential dilemma of why we’re on earth and why bad things can happen – even to good people. It was easier to believe reincarnation was a soothing myth that than it was to accept the mystical belief that some essential part of a living being – the soul or the spirit – survives death to be reborn in a new body. To literally be made flesh again and return to earth in order to fulfill its karma. To do this time what you had failed to do the last.
And yet how else to explain the memory lurches?
Josh had read that that even past life experiences that seemed spontaneous were precipitated or triggered by encountering a person, a situation, a sensory experience such as a particular smell or sound or taste that had some connection to a previous incarnation.
He hadn’t seen a single movie in the past five months, but he’d devoured over fifty books on this single subject.
Something the Dalai Lama – who had been chosen as a child from dozens of other children because it was believed he was the incarnation of a previous Dalai Lama- had written in one of those books had stuck in Josh’s mind.
It was a simple explanation for a complex concept, one the few things he’d read that made Josh feel that if what was happening was related to reincarnation, then perhaps it wasn’t a curse, but an enviable gift.
Reincarnation, the Dalai Lama explained, was not exclusively an ancient Egyptian, Hindu or a Buddhist concept, but an enriching one intrinsically intertwined in the fabric of the history of human origin—proof, he wrote, of the mindstream's capacity to retain knowledge of physical and mental activities. A fact tied to the law of cause and effect.
A meaningful answer to complicated questions.
Something was happening to him, here in Rome. Time was twisting in on itself in amazing detail, and the pull to give in and explore it was stronger than it had ever been. Josh put the camera down. He stared out at the break in the tree line. He could keep fighting the memory lurches or he could open his mind and see where they took him. Maybe he would come out on the other side of this labyrinth understanding why he’d had to travel its path.
©2007 M.J. Rose