The Lion Seeker

Are you a stupid or a clever?

Such is the refrain in Isaac Helger’s mind as he makes his way from redheaded hooligan to searching adolescent to striving young man on the make. His mother’s question haunts every choice and action. Are you a stupid or a clever? Will you find a way to lift your family out of Johannesburg’s poor inner city, to buy a house in the suburbs, to bring your aunts and cousins from Lithuania? The Lion Seeker brings to life South Africa, its Jewish community, its energy and brawny vernacular, as Isaac struggles toward his goals against the specter of a dark family secret and against his own impetuous temper and sensuous nature. A profoundly moral exploration of how wider social forces act on families and individuals, it is the kind of epic, coming-of-age, mother-son narrative in line with the work of Mordechai Richler, Leon Uris, Philip Roth, and more recently David Grossman. We are caught—challenged, sympathetic, hearts open and wrecked—between the urgent ambitions of a mother who knows what it takes to survive and a son straining against the responsibilities of the old world, even as he is endowed with the freedoms of the new.