Winner of the 12th annual Pushcart Press Editors' Book Award: a first novel whose timelessly naive American heroine, Freya, learns about the more timely topic of Arab-Israeli relations as she seeks her son—and Israeli soldier—Noah. Freya Pushkin—only child of a militant Marxist father and a religious mother—grew up in Chicago, where as an adolescent she met and fell in love with Asher Frank. Asher, a student of philosophy, was also a Socialist and Zionist, which meant an early move to Israel; dutiful Freya, however, stayed behind to nurse her ailing mother. Over the next 20 years, Freya, a would-be writer, wrote labels for a museum; married a wealthy but conventional doctor; and bore beloved Noah, who left for Israel right after high-school. As the story begins, Freya's marriage is over, her mother has finally died, and Noah is believed to have joined the Israeli army. Alarmed by the news of war in Lebanon, Freya heads for Israel, where she learns not only that Asher is now an important general in Israeli Intelligence but that—surprise!- -relations between Jew and Arab are tense and bitter. Personalized by her growing friendship with troubled Israeli Arab Layla, this discovery is vital if Cohen's basically simple tale of a woman finding her true love and son again is to be an important political story. So while Freya, searching for Noah, fortuitously meets up again with Asher, her increasingly contrived meetings with Layla seem intended to create—but don't—dramatic tension and opportunities for political opining. Even the (gasp!) dangerous and nightmarish trip to Beirut, where Noah is found—battle-scarred but happy—seems more tacked-on Politics 101 than an organic part of the plot. Despite good intentions: an awkward mix of didactic politics, schmaltzy romance, and a protagonist and plot in hostage to an idea.
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