The Cabalist’s Daughter is a bipolar sort of book. On one hand, it’s a crazy, unhinged vision of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, starting with a wild supposition and growing steadily wilder from the first page onwards–what if the Lubavitcher Rebbe had a clone? On the other, it’s a pretty serious book that touches upon messianism, rape, global warming, peace in the Mideast, and those perpetually-impending nuclear crises that the news people are so fond of reporting about.
Of course, it’s not actually the Rebbe, and it’s not officially Chabad that’s being portrayed here — it’s the Cosmic Wisdom movement, a Hasidic group filled with “Cosmic Wisdomnik” rabbis with hospice houses spread out all over the world. The book opens with the leader of the Cosmic Wisdom movement, known only as the Cabalist, visiting the grave of the previous CW leader, his father-in-law, and having one of those supernatural rabbi conversations.
Soon after, the Cabalist has a heart attack. In the hospital, boys from the Cosmic Wisdom yeshiva keep a vigil over their leader and recite psalms, believing that, as long as there’s a Jew keeping watch, the Cabalist is safe from death. Of course, one of the boys falls asleep, and the Cabalist immediately dies — but, as the moment of death, the boy snatches a shirt with some some stray genetic material on it, runs it across the street to the Columbia University laboratory that his father funds, and instigates a procedure to clone the just-departed (and heirless) Cabalist.
Genetics being what it is, the cloning works — but, unexpectedly, the Cabalist’s clone is a girl. She’s taken in by one of his chief followers and raised, knowing that she’s adopted, but ignorant of her true parentage. At the age of twenty, however, her true nature begins to be revealed. First, at a brothel in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the unlikely Nechama (a near-anagram of Menachem, the name of both the fictional Cabalist and the real-world Lubavitcher Rebbe) makes miracles happen and heals the mentally and physically injured women there. She then travels the country helping the disadvantaged, giving strength to labor unions, and riling up the populace…basically, exercising her messianic powers and building up her stamina to fight against the powers of the devil, or Samael, whose minions soon come after her.