Books by Barbara C. Johnson

Released: July 1, 1995

This firsthand account of the Jewish community of Cochin, a town on the southwestern coast of India, fails to live up to its potential. The Cochin Jews have a wealth of tradition and folklore abounding in ghosts and spirits, as well as a caste system nearly as rigid as that of mainstream Indian society. Daniel was born in 1912 to a well-educated, middle-class family and received a good education. She served briefly in the Royal Indian Navy during WW II and had a solid career in the civil service before moving to a kibbutz in Israel, where she continues to reside today. Unfortunately, her story is a personal tale completely dependent on the telling for its interest. Penned by a competent stylist, it might have been vastly entertaining, but coauthor Johnson (Anthropology/Ithaca Coll.), who tape-recorded and arranged the conversations in which Daniel recalled her past, has been no help at all in giving them literary shape and texture. The setting is exotic; the folklore could have lent these reminiscences a Garc°a M†rquezlike quality. But Daniel is anything but a natural storyteller: Her tale is overly episodic and unfocused; her language harsh and unmusical. As a historical narrative, Daniel's account is unconvincing because of her many grievances. Much of the text is devoted to denouncing her hometown's haughty ``white Jews,'' who scorned Daniel's own family as the descendants of slave women, and to tooting her ancestral horn. She also spends a fair amount of time criticizing the irreligious members of her kibbutz. For Daniel, this grumping may have been a therapeutic exercise; for the reader, it's merely tiresome. (photos, not seen) Read full book review >