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Yiskah Lopez sings us a new song in prose and spirit

Posted by nouspraktikon on June 4, 2019

Yiskah Lopez sings us a new song in prose and in spirit

A review of “The Open Door to My Soul” by Yiskah Lopez

This book is written in a special language.  Never mind that, apart from a light seasoning of Hebrew, which only serves to enhance its taste, Ms. Lopez’s small volume is mostly written in easy to understand English.  Rather, the actual language is one of the heart, written in symbols which communicate intimately to the soul.  Some people call this “the language of roots and branches” and there are various other esoteric and academic names for this as well, but knowing any of this is unnecessary to appreciate the substance of the work.  Indeed, there is quite a difference between a deep story and a sophisticated book.  In many ways they are opposites, and “The Open Door to My Soul” definitely falls into the first category.

Exoterically, this is a romantic tale about love, horses, and the desert.  Actually, you don’t need to know anything about horses or the desert to appreciate the story.  Certainly I don’t, although the author (and here I refer to the carnal plane of our world) knows a great deal about both.  So when we see things occurring in the story which don’t seem justified by our mundane experience, we can’t simply assume that this is a mistake committed through a lack of expert knowledge.  Rather, we are being invited to check our assumptions, and enter into the gates of a different mode of experience.

In literature, a gate of transcendence sometimes appears as a concrete device within the story itself.  For example, in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia the gate is a wardrobe in the back of an apartment during the Battle of Britain.  Likewise, in Ms. Lopez’s tale, we enter through the historical experience of Yemenite Jews in the year 1948, just as they are on the verge of disappearing as a separate people, and entering upon an ethnic afterlife as an Israeli ethnic group.  However the story takes on a life of its own, and a critical reader using this narrative to glean concrete facts about Yemen in 1948 is as wrongheaded as someone trying to use Narnia as a London street map.

None the less, the transposition of the narrative from history to symbolism doesn’t nullify the significance of the Yemeni background.  Much like today, there were horrible things taking place in the Yemen of 1948.  Even though these realities aren’t explored in gruesome detail, Ms. Lopez, or perchance her angel, expects us to be aware of them, and much, much more.  We are expected to know that the people of Teman (a.k.a. the “Yemenite Jews”) were a separated people within a separate people, and that their historical consciousness and records stretched back through a spiritual stratigraphy into the depths of Biblical times.  For the inquiring historian, there are plenty of other books covering the particulars of their mores, customs and literature, a few of which are referenced at the back of Ms. Lopez’s volume.  Needless to say, the very existence of such a people was and is a living reproach to religions and traditions of more recent pedigree.

Granted, “The Open Door…” is not a realistic treatment of either ethnology or history.  The words “radio” and “automobile” never appear in the text, although many such artefacts existed in both the Kingdom of Yemen and the Aiden Protectorate by mid-20th century. More subtly, as a symbolic venture Ms. Lopez’s work fails to teach us the technicalities of the equestrian arts or the ecology of desert biomes, yet its purpose is indeed to teach us something, which brings us to the third item in its trinity of noematic objects: Love.   This is a handbook of how to love victoriously in a world dominated by a wicked angel, a god of hate.  If we take this as a given, there is even less point in dwelling on the specifics of pogroms than the vanished glories of Temani liturgics.  The deed is done, and the protagonist’s family is sanctified by the second chapter.  Henceforth we depart from history and enter into the world of symbols.

If we were look through the eyes of psychology, we could easily dismiss the rest of the story as the protagonist’s zoomorphic transposition of trauma, a kind of self defence mechanism, somewhat along the lines “the life of Pi.”  However, this is not the author’s intention, and we should not reject her invitation to a more spiritual perspective.  After all, the protagonist and her murdered parents are just as fictional as the powerful equine characters who shortly enter the narrative.  For the critical theorist, any sort of spirituality is bound to appear delusional, however this is not psychology, but allegory, a hallmark of which is that the protagonist takes a very activist and ultimately victorious stance in overcoming her situation.  Psychology, at least the kind of “talking-psychology” which was popular in the last century, is big on interpretation and short on rectification, hence endless analysis.

Unlike psychotherapy, romantic fiction always comes to a resolution.  In this respect, romantic fiction, an innovation of the West, it is an outgrowth of the Messianic impulse imparted to the European world by Christianity.  Yet “The Open Door to My Soul” is not romantic fiction either, rather it may be likened to a stream flowing out of that primitive aquafer from which the waters of Western romanticism had been originally diverted.  Now that the West has rejected its God, the sons of Japeth are no longer worthy of dwelling in the tents of Shem.  Henceforth, those of us among the mixed multitude fleeing nihilism will have to make it back to the tents of Shem without the aid of the crumbling artefacts of the Western mind.

At the risk of being mistaken for simple minded infatuation, “The Open Door to My Soul” reverts to this primitive Messianic mode of expression.  The language of love is never improved by sophistication, and this is especially true of symbolic prose, which tries to depict spiritual realities using the broad brushstrokes of powerful, animate, descriptions.  This kind of spiritual literature attains a simple mindedness analogous to the visual simple mindedness of a Blake painting.  Of course this is not real simple mindedness, but elegance, as in the elegance of a mathematical proof.

Not believing in spoilers, I have tried to be circumspect on the specifics of Ms. Lopez’s work, to the point where I have even neglected to name its protagonist.  On that point I’ll relent and tell you that her name is Azia, which Ms. Lopez informs us means “the rising sun” in Arabic, that tongue being a tact and tacit mode of expression among the vulnerable Jewish community of pre-1948 Yemen.   Azia is portrayed as being very young, but if I am not mistaken would be about sixty years Ms. Lopez’s senior in historical time.  But of course this story takes place in archetypal time so the separation between the soul of Azia and Ms. Lopez, or for that matter between either of their souls and any of ours, is not as great as one might assume.  Ultimately, this story is an instruction, not a history.

I fear that, in having defended Ms. Lopez from the charge of a merely romantic simplicity, I have laid myself open to the accusation of reading too much esoteric content into a simple love story.  So in order to establish some degree of credibility I’ll throw another spoiler into the pot.  At one point early in the narrative Azia and the dark horse who rescued her are suddenly joined by 70 other horses of all different colours.  Keep in mind that this story is set against a background of war and problematic international relations.  Do you see what is going on?  Do you understand what the significance of the seventy is?  If so you can read the language that “The Open Door to My Soul” is written in.  You may also know that this language has been perverted and abused by forces which seek to harm the human race.

Therefore I have glad tidings for you.  In hands such as that of Ms. Lopez, this language is capable of being restored to the original innocence intended by its Creator.  In spite of its dark setting, “The Open Door to My Soul” is an instruction of hope, and is sure to be a blessing to any who read it.

But what if you don’t understand?  Even so, it won’t do you any harm, which is saying a great deal considering the quality of much contemporary literature.  At worst, you will be able to enjoy scoffing at the story as another hackneyed tale of a girl, a horse, and a mysterious lover.  However it may leave you perplexed, when, having pigeonholed it as a romantic potboiler, it refuses to end the way a proper romantic novel is supposed to.  Enjoy!

—Mark Sunwall

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