A Talk About Death

Leon Wieseltier did not want to talk about death. I, of course, wanted to talk about nothing else.

“It’s over for me,” the tall, lanky, white-haired professorial-looking author told me of his new book, “Kaddish.” “I did it already.”

Well, not quite. “Kaddish” is a 588-page journal of the year Wieseltier spent mourning his father. Poignant, written-from-within grief, coated in a radiant love of Jewish learning that belies the author’s anti-mysticism, this is a book that finds in a people’s tragic history the spiritual foundation for our own shattered time.

“But I believe in God and you don’t!” Wieseltier recalls a friend telling him, as a way of challenging what he calls his year of “soldierly discipline” with prayer and text. He answers, “I’m not praying and studying entirely for filial reasons. I am not only a son.”