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4 out of 4 stars
Review by ananya92
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Orit and Ruti’s father taught the two sisters to keep an open mind, and respect Jewish and Arabic culture equally. Ruti grows up to be an Israeli journalist, while Orit earns fame as an actress. After their parents untimely demise, they’ve only each other, but fate has other plans. Ruti falls in love with an Arab, and forsakes her previous life, to become Ratiba after their marriage, keeping her Jewish identity a secret.
Banished by her sister after a bitter confrontation, Orit is left with only sad memories. She longs to reunite with her sister, to bond with her nephew and nieces, but her innocent wish is fulfilled in a disastrous manner, which only widens the gulf between the two sisters. Elisheva, their cousin, commits herself to a life of nursing, caring for the injured, and healing those broken by the Second Intifada. Will these women find peace, which has eluded them, and Israel for decades?
The story is written in first person, oscillating between the perspectives of the three women, and follows a nonlinear chronology. Since this novel covers events spanning more than half a century, readers might find it helpful to brush up on Israel’s history (I did). To be honest, with regard to the Israel-Palestine conflict, my sympathies have tilted towards the latter. However, I have to thank the author for acquainting me with the momentous struggle of the Jewish community to find a home, which they can call their own. This book offers an insight into the history, culture, polity, geography, and society of Israel.
The author’s writing style is descriptive and evocative. I could almost picture the olive trees swaying in the desert expanse of the region, and feel the pain, anguish and hope harbored by the characters. The book is split into seven parts, with brief appearances of Israel (or Israela), who is personified as a female. Though the story majorly circles around the three Jewish women, it remains remarkably unbiased. The author has intelligently used women as her central characters as they suffer the most in any political or military friction.
All the three protagonists are pretty likable characters, with their weaknesses and failings, like Ratiba’s fear of exposure that overpowers her desire to see her sister. There are several minor characters flitting in and out of the story, and each character has something substantial to contribute. There is so much to like in the plotline: how Ratiba is caught between two worlds and is spurned by both for her half-hearted loyalty, how Ibrahim discovers her secret but keeps it to himself to punish her, how their lack of dialogue is an allegory for the lack of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, how Orit is unable to gather the courage to meet her sister and yet doesn’t stop hoping for a reconciliation, how Elisheva heals her patients by recording their stories, and how these stories convey the true spirit of Israel, where Arabs save Jews and Jews protect Arabs.
The author weaves a fascinating tale featuring complex, idealistic and passionate characters, which are mysteriously linked without their knowing, and the reader is left spellbound when the suspense is lifted at the end. The author does not propose a solution to the schism, but what she does offer are stories displaying the power of familial bond and selfless acts of heroism.
This book makes a convincing appeal for peace through its pages. For this alone it deserves a 4 out of 4 stars. Readers, who appreciate good literature and sensitive storytelling, should definitely try this one.
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Great Review! 😀
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