Hunt for the truth

Is it possible to change your entire life? The Legacy, British journalist and Jerusalem Post columnist Melanie Phillips’s latest novel, answers that question with a resounding affirmative.

The captivating and well-crafted story of a middle-aged British television producer’s reconciliation with his past and with his Jewish identity, The Legacy is a thoroughly enjoyable novel from a talented writer.

The Legacy, though, is not only a good summer read. The book also presents a moral argument about what kind of change is possible and good – for Phillips’s character and for us.

The novel’s protagonist, Russell Woolfe, is divorced, estranged from his family, with his career stalled. The book opens on the day of his father’s funeral. Swooning on the train platform edge, Russell only barely escapes falling to his own death on the tracks of the London Underground – a fitting symbol of how close he is to disaster.

Russell’s transformation begins in his childhood synagogue on the following Shabbat. Having attended the Orthodox service out of a sense of obligation, at the kiddush Russell happens to meet an old man who offers to show him an “ancient” and valuable Hebrew book kept hidden in his family for generations.

When Russell turns up at the designated address, the man, an immigrant from Eastern Europe named Joe Kutchinsky, shows Russell his treasure: a medieval Jewish manuscript written in French but using Hebrew characters. He tasks Russell, who happened to study French at Oxford, with translating the book. Under Kutchinsky’s watchful and suspicious eye, Russell painstakingly reveals the story of Eliachim of York, a British Jew like himself who lived a thousand years earlier.

Read the full story from 2018 in The Jerusalem Post.