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The Fortune Seekers

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The Fortune Seekers

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The Fortune Seekers
A Novel
By Libby Lazewnik
Shaar Press - Distributed by Mesorah Publications, New York: 2008
ISBN 10: 1-4226-0646-5
ISBN 13: 978-1-4226-0646-9

Reviewed by Herbert White - July 10, 2008

I recently read an intriguing book called The Fortune Seekers that was a well blended mix of modern drama, mystery, and historical fiction that delved into Jewish history and presence in New Mexico, from the 1849 Gold Rush until today. Well-plotted and deftly written by the acclaimed novelist, Libby Lazewnik, The Fortune Seekers grabs your attention immediately, and holds it throughout the entire novel.

The story follows the adventures of several Kollel families that are dispatched to the laid back town of Lakewood, New Mexico to give it a solid infusion of Torah and to strengthen its Jewish residents' commitment to a Jewish lifestyle and to start a new Kollel where none had ever stood before. Within the pages of this novel, Lazewnik not only tackles the thorny issues involved in moving entire families from a big city that has a vibrant center of Jewish study and life to a rural setting with few Jewish amenities or community structure. Lazewnik follows the adjustments these families must make, both on a personal level, and as a unified group with a mission.

At the center of everything is the Bernstein family and their middle child Gila. The father, Nachman Bernstein heads to New Mexico to become the Rosh Kollel of the new school, a job he took in part because Gila has severe asthma and her doctor's had recommended that she leave New York and move to a drier climate for her health.

Interwoven into this kiruv (outreach) story is also a mystery that traces its origins back to 1849, and a group of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who had traded the shtetl for a chance at a new life in what was then, the wild west. A trade that was to have tragic consequences, and one that would leave a nagging mystery unsolved until Gila Bernstein and her family make the life altering move to New Mexico, and Gila sets out to solve this cunning mystery that has remained unanswered for so long, and unbeknownst to her, find a treasure that had for far too long remained hidden.

The Fortune Seekers is a fast paced novel filled with vibrant details about Jewish life in New Mexico, and which includes a host of believable and interesting characters. Most are Jewish, but there is also a smattering of non-Jewish characters that have important roles in the story, including a Native American lawyer and the town's sheriff.

An outstanding example of Jewish fiction at its best, The Fortune Seekers is an excellent and exciting read for teenagers and adults alike.

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