Malka­h’s Note­book: A Jour­ney into the Mys­ti­cal Aleph-Bet

September 1, 2021

Malkah is a child when her father tries teach­ing her to read Torah. But they don’t get very far. As Malkah stud­ies, her ques­tions mul­ti­ply. She dis­cov­ers an ear­li­er, hid­den sto­ry of cre­ation with­in the Hebrew Aleph-Bet let­ters in the first line of Gen­e­sis. And a door opens. Malkah’s dis­cov­ery takes her on a life­long jour­ney in search of her begin­nings — into Jew­ish mys­ti­cal texts, far-off places, archae­o­log­i­cal digs, ancient gods, and ulti­mate­ly into the nature of exis­tence itself.

Part bed­time sto­ry, part poem, part jour­nal, and cou­pled with high­ly evoca­tive illus­tra­tions, Malkah’s Note­book is a love let­ter to the Hebrew alpha­bet that unlocks life’s great­est mysteries.

Discussion Questions

Part long-form poem, part con­tem­po­rary illu­mi­na­tion, and part graph­ic nov­el, Malkah’s Note­book deft­ly refor­mu­lates ancient ques­tions about cre­ation, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, mys­ti­cism, and God into a com­pelling narrative.

Mira Z Amiras’s young Malkah grows up page by page; as she does, her ques­tions and sto­ry mature. Her first sim­ple query, What does this say, Abba?” pref­aces her dawn­ing skep­ti­cism. As a young adult, she encoun­ters the mytho­log­i­cal antecedents of El, God, and of the tetra­gram­ma­ton, and address­es each let­ter of the Alef-Bet in a lyri­cal, chap­ter-long poem.

Josh Baum’s illus­tra­tions fuse Jew­ish scrib­al arts with graph­ic dig­i­tal col­lages, pro­duc­ing a tex­tu­al visu­al nar­ra­tive that is as lyri­cal as Amiras’s words. The let­ters of the Alef-Bet become micro­graph­ic embell­ish­ments, hiero­glyphs, and entire envi­ron­ments. The Shin becomes the teeth of a key; the Bet morphs into a court­yard and foun­tain; the Tet becomes the shad­ow of a cat; and the cat itself con­torts into var­i­ous let­ters. Malkah and her envi­ron­ments are wrapped and adorned with the text of litur­gi­cal poems.

Both Amiras’s poet­ry and Baum’s illus­tra­tions draw heav­i­ly on the Jew­ish tra­di­tion of devis­ing and reveal­ing mean­ing and beau­ty in every flour­ish of every let­ter of the Alef Bet. Although the sto­ry is short, Malkah’s Note­book is mul­ti­lay­ered, rich, and brim­ming with secrets.