About the Book
This is the fantastical, yet real, story of the merchants of Bethlehem, the young men who traveled to every corner of the globe in the 19th century. These men set off on the backs of donkeys with suitcases full of crosses and rosaries, to return via steamship with suitcases stuffed with French francs, Philippine pesos, or Salvadoran colones. They returned with news of mysterious lands and strange inventions—clocks, trains, and other devises that both befuddled and bewitched the Bethlehemites. With newfound wealth, these merchants built shimmering pink mansions that transformed Bethlehem. At the center of these extraordinary occurrences lived Jubrail Dabdoub.
The Lives and Deaths of Jubrail Dabdoub tells the story of Jubrail's encounters, from his childhood in rural Bethlehem to later voyages across Europe, East Asia, and the Americas, culminating in a recorded miracle: in 1909, Jubrail was brought back from the dead. To tell such a tale is to delve into the realms of the fantastic and improbable—realms in which the historian rarely treads. Through the story of Jubrail's life, Jacob Norris explores the porous lines between history and fiction, the normal and the paranormal, the everyday and the extraordinary.
Drawing on aspects of magical realism combined with elements of Palestinian folklore, Norris recovers the atmosphere of late nineteenth-century Bethlehem: a mood of excitement, disorientation, and wonder surrounding the scores of young men setting off for faraway lands. As the book offers an original approach to historical writing, it captures a fantastic story of global encounter and exchange.