Abraham Mapu (1808-1867) was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, the son of an penniless yet scholarly teacher. He soon acquired a reputation as a brilliant student. Following his marriage at age 17, Mapu continued his studies in the home of his wealthy father-in-law in Kaunas. After a brief flirtation with Hassidism, he resumed his interest in the Kabala and mysticism, fostered by his father.
A chance encounter with a copy of the Psalms with a Latin translation aroused his interest and he taught himself Latin, a virtually unknown subject of study among pious Jews in Eastern Europe. Eventually he acquired a fair proficiency in French, German and Russian in spite of the hostility in his circles to the study of languages. He also dedicated himself to the study of Bible, Hebrew grammar and modern literature.
Throughout his life, Mapu struggled to provide a living for his family. He taught young children and tutored children of wealthy families. He wandered from Kaunas to Georgenberg, Rossyieny, Vilnius and back to Kaunas. During those years he was drawn to the Haskalah movement. Mapu became deeply interested in ancient Jewish history and decided that he should write in Hebrew.
In 1848 he was given a permanent teaching post in a government school and for the next ten years he enjoyed improved financial and domestic circumstances. Those were also his most fruitful literary years. From 1860 his health began to fail, and his second wife died after a long illness. It took him over ten years to complete his first novel, Ahavat Ziyyon (The Love of Zion). At first the censors forbid publication, but finally, the first Hebrew novel was published in 1853.
Ahavat Ziyyon won immediate acclaim and at least sixteen editions, as well as translation into many languages, attest to its continued popularity. Apart from his novels, Mapu published several books designed to improve the educational methods of his day.
Books Published in Hebrew
The Love of Zion (novel), Vilnius, I.R.Ram, 1853 [Ahavat Tzion]
Speckled Bird (novel), Vilnius, I.R.Ram, 1858-61-64 [Ayit Tzvua]
The Guilt of Samaria (novel), Vilnius, I.R.Ram, 1865-66 [Ashmat Shomron]
Books in Translation
The Love of Zion
Arabic: Cairo, Al-Mabta`ah al-Khidiwiah, 1899
English: London, Marshall Simpkin, 1887; New York, The People-The Land, 1902; New York, National Book, 1919; New York, Brookside, 1922; New Milford/London, Toby Press, 2006
French: Paris, Lipschutz, 1937; Paris, L. Rodstein, 1946
German: Leipzig, Friedrich, 1885; Kauffmann, 1897
Yiddish: Warsaw, Amkraut & Freund, 1874; Warsaw, Central, 1923; Warsaw, 1983; Lemberg, 1985