Imaginative novel will appeal to all ages


With Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, local Jewish author Allan Richard Shickman has published a vivid tale which immediately captivates the reader, as he unfolds the story “of a youth’s struggle against the harshness of his world, and his emergence as a man and a leader.” While the novel is aimed at an audience of “young readers,” it is told with such verve, energy and style that it will appeal to readers of all ages and sensibilities.

Shickman told the Jewish Light, “while Zan-Gah is not primarily a Jewish tale, it is a story of brotherhood reminiscent of the Torah story of Jacob and Esau, and tells of the invention of the same sling that David used against Goliath.” Indeed, while the novel is not explicitly Jewish in tone, its emphasis on the struggles of the main characters against lions evokes images from Jacob’s desciption of his son Judah, from who David would descend as “a lion’s whelp,” and of Samson’s display of strength when he overpowered a lion.

Born in St. Louis, Shickman is a graduate of Soldan High School. He studied painting at Washington University and did graduate work at the University of Iowa before teaching art history at the University of Northern Iowa for three decades before coming home to St. Louis. While Schickman’s lively imagination is obvious on every page of Zan-Gah, he stresses that it is not a “Dungeons and Dragons” type of fantasy novel, but is instead grounded in a realistic story of a prehistoric character’s efforts to find his lost brother and to get a better handle on just what kind of person he will become. In this sense, the story again evokes the struggles of Jacob, who twice tricks his twin brother Esau as well as his nearly blind father into obtaining the birthright to lead the family.

While the setting for Zan-Gah is defined as “prehistoric” and desert-like, Schickman deliberately avoids being specific about the main character’s ethnic identiy or the precise time and location of the action. The power of Schickman’s words becomes apparent in the very first chapter, titled “Lion,” which sets the stage for the story.

“From a long distance a traveler, or some wild thing, might see within the deep and absolute blackness of night an intense orange light which looked from afar like a glowing coal. If that observer were curious (or hungry, as was often the case), and had the courage to seek a nearer vantage point, he would see a youthful figure seated on a rock staring into a blazing bonfire. The youth, just in his early teens, wore an expression as intense as his fire, which revealed the preoccupation of one engaged in both thought and action….There would be a hunt. A lion had killed a child and it had to be destroyed. Living, it would be a constant threat to the neighboring clans. The elders had put aside their differences in order to unite behind a strategy in which many would participate.”

Thus the stage is set for a dramatic struggle between man-boy and beast, and a pre-figuring of competing groups of tribes or nations coming together to face a common threat, a phenomenon which has continued from prehistoric times down to the present conflicts in the Middle East. Zan is described in the next chapter as being “not handsome,” and as being one of twins. “Zan had a twin. Born an hour after Zan, Dael looked exactly like him, and yet everybody had been able to tell them apart by their marked differences in character. Zan was serious and talked little, while Dael loved to talk and chatter. Dael was an affectionate child, his arm always around his brother or his father, but Zan was reserved and intense, lacking his twin’s happy optimism, and looking inward as much as outward. Smiles visited Zan but seldom, while Dael rarely frowned. Although only an hour apart, Zan was like an older brother, stoutly protective of his milder twin.”

As is the case with Jacob, the smooth-skinned, clever and younger twin, and Esau, the hairy, physical hunter-twin, Zan and Dael are polar opposites in temperament and character.

Suddenly and without warning, “one day Dael disappared — no one knew where,” writes Shickman. Zan must then confront not only the sense of loss caused by his brother’s absence, but also the need to be brave and strong as he seeks to hunt down and kill the lion which threatens the security of his clan and its neighbors.

Shickman describes the confrontation of Zan with the lioness with heart-pounding prose: “Then, at the moment the attack was finally sounded — when the men, putting down their drums and torches, charged on the run with their spears — the lioness saw what she was looking for. One of her enemies was smaller, weaker than the rest….Thought merged with furious action and the beast, with a mighty bound of astonishing swiftness, darted toward Zan. Five hundreds pounds of snarling fury sprang directly at him with claws bared and fanged mouth open!”

Shickman told the Jewish Light, “as a Jewish author, I have striven to make my book not only exciting, but moral and meaningful. It involves such important themes as honor, courage and sacrifice. I hope your readers will like Zan-Gah.”

(Zan-Gah is nationally distributed by Biblio (ISBN 978-0-9790357-0-8, 148 pages, paper, $9.95).