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Richard Zimler

The Incandescent Threads (paperback)

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From the acclaimed author of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and The Warsaw Anagrams comes an unforgettable, deeply moving ode to solidarity, heroism and the kind of love capable of overcoming humanity’s greatest horror.

Maybe none of us is ever aware of our true significance.

Benjamin Zarco and his cousin Shelly are the only two members of their family to survive the Holocaust. In the decades since, each man has learned, in his own unique way, to carry the burden of having outlived all the others, while ever wondering why he was spared.

Saved by a kindly piano teacher who hid him as a child, Benni suppresses the past entirely and becomes obsessed with studying kabbalah in search of the ‘Incandescent Threads’ – nearly invisible fibres that he believes link everything in the universe across space and time. But his mystical beliefs are tested when the birth of his son brings the ghosts of the past to his doorstep.

Meanwhile, Shelly – devastatingly handsome, charming and exuberantly bisexual – comes to believe that pleasures of the flesh are his only escape, and takes every opportunity to indulge his desires. That is, until he begins a relationship with a profoundly traumatised Canadian soldier and artist who helped to liberate Bergen-Belsen – and might just be connected to one of the cousins’ departed kin.

Across six non-linear mosaic pieces, we move from a Poland decimated by World War II to modern-day New York and Boston, hearing friends and relatives of Benni and Shelly tell of the deep influence of the beloved cousins on their lives. For within these intimate testimonies may lie the key to why they were saved and the unique bond that unites them.


"The latest effort by the author of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon (1998) succeeds with its strong emotion, memorable characters, and mosaiclike structure. Zimler's handling of the continuum of time is both moving and unsettling. A thoughtful and affecting novel about generational trauma." Kirkus

"The past interweaves with the future in The Incandescent Threads, a sublime novel from Richard Zimler ... An extraordinary premise and exquisitely written, it was so easy to become immersed in the narrative that offered so much insight into the historic events experienced by the characters." Rhianon Holley, Buzz Magazine

‘A memorable portrait of the search for meaning in the shadow of the Shoah.’ – The Sunday Times

exceptional... richly drawn’ – Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Zimler writes about the generational pain of the Holocaust through a life-embracing lens of humanity, humour and sexuality. He also raises a number of important questions: how do we resemble our parents and how do we differ from them? How can we come to terms with the past?" James Mayor, The Portugese Jewish News

"Page by lyrical page, Zimler offers insight into the costs of untold suffering alongside the rewards of passionate love. Shimmering through every scene is an understanding of human capacities for profound sorrow as well as stubborn hope." Elizabeth Rosner, Hadassah Magazine

"Zimler writes about the generational pain of the Holocaust through a life-embracing lens of humanity, humour and sexuality. He also raises a number of important questions, leaving us to reflect on our own experiences and come up if we can with roadmaps to move forward." Evolve Magazine


Richard Zimler was born in New York in 1956 and now resides in Porto, Portugal. His twelve novels have been translated into twenty-three languages and have appeared on bestseller lists in twelve different countries, including the United States, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Italy and Portugal. Five of his works have been nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award, the richest prize in the English-speaking world, and he has won several other accolades for his fiction across Europe and North America. The Incandescent Threads is the latest in his Sephardic Cycle, an acclaimed group of independent works that explore the lives of different branches and generations of a Portuguese-Jewish family, the Zarcos.