– New York Times Book Review
“Septimania is a masterpiece: a rule-bending, category-smashing, delightful work of brilliance.”
– Bill Buford, author of Heat and Among the Thugs
Septimania has the format of a novel, but it has roots in the folk-tales of The Arabian Nights. It reaches out to epic, in the form of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and to Wordsworth’s Newton, “voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone.” It takes in the sad modern world of refugees and terrorism, plots and code-breakers. And it’s a love story, too. More than one reading will be needed to digest Mr. Levi’s comprehensive, many-branching vision. It adds new dimensions to the idea of the novel.
If you’d told me back on New Year’s Day that my favorite book of 2016 (in April, at least) would be a love story between an organ tuner and a mathematician, I would’ve balked. And yet Septimania—Jonathan Levi’s first novel since 1992’s A Guide for the Perplexed—won me over in chapter one. Intellectually fascinating and emotionally powerful, the tale that follows is a poignant meditation on youth, love, myth, history, and quantum theory.
Read interview in Chicago Review of Books
“Reading Jonathan Levi’s new novel Septimania is like dancing on a moving stage; it’s exhilarating, even as you worry that your feet might fly out from under you.”
Read the full review in The Seattle Times
“Will Isaac Newton Survive the Second Coming of Levi-mania?”
Read full interview in The Forward
“Some novels are so rich in all their aspects that not even a lengthy review can do justice to the myriad gifts they offer. Jonathan Levi’s Septimania is one such novel.”
Read full review in The Jewish Chronicle
“Levi’s idealistic novel is as challenging as it is refreshing. Boldly putting his fable forward, he is more honest than many of today’s fiction writers. His experimental narrative implicates the reader in a philosophy of science, love, sex, and religion resulting in a Whitmanian mash: hope and despair, finite detail and grandiose allusion.”
Read the full review in The Washington Independent Review of Books
"A richly imagined, complex tapestry of gleaming threads woven through the centuries to converge in a glorious epiphany. This is realism as magical as the best of García Márquez."Homero Aridjis,
"Septimania is a voracious novel, boundless in its curiosity and fearless in its execution. It is a storytelling feat."Juan Gabriel Vásquez,
"Levi's fable of love, religion and physics dances with a spirited and lambent invention, rendered in precise and often lyrically beautiful prose."Owen Sheers,
"Septimania is both a compelling, fun mystery and a philosophical love story. In these pages, the musical prose combined with profound, complex ideas is masterful."Jennifer Clement,
"Septimania is a love story, a kingdom, a novel of wild and rich imagination. For Levi, for his Jews, his Catholics, his Arabs, and even the Scientists of his creative universe, all roads lead to Rome. There is a lyricism to Levi’s writing that is sometimes religious, sometimes profane, but always musical."A.B. Yehoshua,
On an idyllic spring afternoon in 1978 in the loft of a church outside Cambridge, England, an organ tuner named Malory loses his virginity to a dyslexic math genius named Louiza.
When Louiza disappears, Malory follows her trail to Rome. There, the quest to find his love gets sidetracked when he discovers he is the heir to the Kingdom of Septimania, given by Charlemagne to the Jews of 8th-century France. In the midst of a Rome reeling from the kidnappings and bombs of the Red Brigades, Malory is crowned King of the Jews, Holy Roman Emperor and possibly Caliph of All Islam. Over the next fifty years, Malory’s search for Louiza leads to brushes with Aldo Moro, Pope John Paul II,
a band of lost Romanians, a magical Bernini statue, Haroun al Rashid of Arabian Nights fame, an elephant that changes color, a shadowy U.S. spy agency and one of the 9/11 bombers, an appleseed from the original Tree of Knowledge, and the secret history of Isaac Newton and his discovery of a Grand Unified Theory that explains everything. But most of all, Septimania is the quest of a Candide for love and knowledge, and the ultimate discovery that they may be unified after all.
Louiza’s golden head around the side of the Orchard Tea Garden,
Louiza’s pale chin lifting upwind, deciding direction, scenting
the surprisingly balmy air of mid-March in 1978. Louiza crossing the
Cambridge Road, elbows at her side, shoulders a marble channel for
the faded straps of her flowered dress.
Malory had left Cambridge and traveled to Rome against all reason,
thrown himself across Europe with only the vague instructions
in the letter from his grandmother and the dim light of a single afternoon’s
memory of Louiza to guide him.
It was pleasant to land in a private airport in the New York countryside.
The view from the chartered jet as they bisected New
York Harbor between the Twin Towers and the Statue of Liberty and
headed up the Hudson—Malory had flown only two or three times
in his life and then only to France so had little to compare—was extraordinary.
Jonathan Levi is an American writer and producer, and author of A Guide for the Perplexed. His short stories and articles have also appeared in many magazines including Granta, Condé Nast Traveler, GQ, Terra Nova, The Nation and The New York Times. Born in New York, he currently lives in Rome,