National Jewish Book Award Winner: A family saga set in WWII-era South Africa offering both “page-turning thrills [and] a painful meditation on destiny” (NPR, All Things Considered).
Called “a latter-day Exodus” by Kirkus Reviews, The Lion Seeker is an epic historical novel centered on the life of Isaac Helger. The son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, he runs around the streets of Johannesburg as a young hooligan and dreams of getting rich. But his parents are still haunted by the memories of the anti-Semitic pogroms they escaped, even as Isaac secretly pursues a relationship with a gentile girl.
As the Nazi threat rises, Isaac is caught between his mother’s urgent ambition to bring her sisters to safety out of the old world, and his own desire to enjoy the freedoms of the new. But soon his mother’s carefully guarded secret takes them to the diamond mines, where mysteries are unveiled in the desert rocks and Isaac begins to learn the bittersweet reality of success bought at any cost.
"A Stupid or a Clever, a lion or a lamb": this refrain follows Isaac Helger as he comes of age in South Africa in the '20s and '30s. Both of Isaac's immigrant Jewish parents suffered in anti-Semitic Europe, but they've learned opposite lessons from their respective ordeals. His iron-willed, mysteriously scarred mother teaches him to put himself first, to take rather than give because if given the chance, anyone else would do the same. But his father favors a life of peaceful labor, preferring happiness to materialism. Which legacy will Isaac choose as he tries to strike it rich, woo an upper-class "goy" girl, and retaliate against anti-Semites? Bonert's minorities are not blameless victims: unable to see the similarity between the persecution of Jews and blacks, Isaac is a bigot, too. When Hitler's onslaught begins, endangering the Helgers' Lithuanian relatives, Isaac must decide which comes first: his own dreams or the lives of others. His is a story of fighting and deciding what's worth fighting for, of cultivating a strength that doesn't erase empathy. Bonert's debut is lengthy, but the pages turn quickly, with suspenseful prose and colorful vernacular dialogue that could easily be used in a blockbuster film.