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It is midnight. A group of men in blue caftans gather alongside the moonlit seashore in Smyrna, Turkey. They tremble with anticipation. Presently, a man emerges from the waves in the distance. He steps behind a rock, dons a shimmering white robe and slowly walks toward his reverential disciples. The man's name is Shabbesai Tzvi, the infamous impostor who would one day convince most of the Jewish world that he is the long-awaited Mashiach. This is where his story begins.
The Impostor, the fifth book in The Strasbourg Saga, takes place in the middle of the seventeenth century, just after the horrendous Cossack massacres of 1648-1649 devastated the Jewish communities of Poland and the Ukraine. Everywhere in Europe and the Mediterranean lands, Jewish people were being persecuted, brutalized, ridiculed, taxed beyond reason. They suffered pogroms, confiscations, expulsions, confinement to ghettos, blood libels.
Amid this world of widespread devastation, of hopelessness and desperation, the brilliant and charismatic Shabbesai Tzvi proclaimed himself Mashiach and promised to end the seemingly interminable exile. At first, he revealed his ambitions only to his closest disciples. People were receptive to his message, and after a while, his messianic cult slowly gathered momentum. After having been in the pit of despair, the false hope aroused by the impostor catapulted the people to the delirious heights of imminent redemption. And when the movement collapsed in a spectacular implosion, their hopes were dashed, and they were plunged into even deeper despair.
This historic story is told through the eyes of the fictional Strasbourg and Tomashov families, who follow the dramatic events from Smyrna to Salonika to Cairo to Yerushalayim. Finally, the breathtaking story reaches its climactic conclusion in Constantinople where Shabbesai Tzvi attempts to take the imperial crown from the sultan's head and place it on his own.