A Jewish man and his Palestinian wife brace for the impact of the Yom Kippur War in this final volume of Gershowitz’s (Heirs of Eden, 2013, etc.) trilogy.
Noah Greenspan and Alexandra Salaman met in their youth and fell in love despite the cultural divide that separated them—he’s a Jewish American, and she’s originally from Palestine. Now, in 1973, the acrimony between Middle Eastern Arab nations and Israel reaches a boiling point as Egypt and Syria jointly attack the latter in the hopes of gaining control over the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Alexandra, a prominent journalist for the Washington Evening Star, struggles to cover the war objectively, mindful of the ways in which her personal background will influence her readers, who will be looking for hints of bias or betrayal: “I’ve bent over backwards to maintain credibility with those on both sides of the Middle East conflict,” she tells Noah at one point. “We were displaced Palestinians, but I owe my life to the Israelis. For God’s sake, our son, Amos, is named after an Israeli.” Meanwhile, Noah, who’s serving as the chairman of the prominent Jewish Council of Greater Washington, is called upon by Democratic U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state to help pressure President Richard Nixon’s administration to more aggressively support Israel. Meanwhile, a Palestinian terrorist, Omar Samir, who harbors seething resentment toward Alexandra for what he perceives as treachery against her own people, plots to kidnap her 5-year-old son, Amos—who’s named after the aforementioned Mossad agent who once saved her life. Gershowitz intelligently brings the tumult of the 1973 setting to life, not only capturing the geopolitical tension that roiled the world, but also the complex, specific intramural politics of the United States, Israel, and Egypt. He’s at the top of his game, though, when he portrays the emotional strain that the war puts on Noah and Alexandra’s otherwise happy marriage. She’s shown to be particularly torn, as she’s genuinely devoted to her beleaguered people, but also mindful of the depredations that Israel suffers. The author handles her torment with impressive aplomb while also offering a model of political writing that avoids even a whiff of ideological grandstanding. That said, Gershowitz’s prose can be disappointingly anodyne, often swinging between bland clarity and breathless melodrama. This is particularly true of the dialogue, which manages to be emotionally overwrought and stiltedly earnest at the same time. In response to Alexandra’s unexpected job offer, for example, a journalist responds: “Look, I know I’m just a good Christian girl from Mississippi County, Arkansas, who goes to church on Sundays and the movies on Saturdays, and prays to Jesus every night, and I ain’t travelled hardly anywhere, but, Alexandra...you’re not fucking with me, are you?” Also, the author simply tries to cram too many events into the novel, making it seem dramatically overextended and longer than it should be; for instance, a subplot that revolves around Noah’s business troubles is simply gratuitous.
A thoughtful historical novel that’s often hampered by uninspired prose.
Pub Date: July 26, 2018
Page count: 458pp
Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2018
A Jewish clan battles hardship and upheaval in America and wartime Poland in this sprawling historical epic.
Like many Polish Jews in 1911, Anna Appelavitch can’t wait to leave the grinding poverty and anti-Semitism of the shtetl behind, so the decision to take her children and join her husband Yakov in America seems like a no-brainer. Alas, after a horrendous crossing in steerage–her only respite from the storm-tossed dank and vomit is a quickie with a handsome ship’s officer that bequeaths her a lifetime of secret fantasies–the grim factory city of Baltimore proves anything but a promised land. To make ends meet, Anna and her eldest daughters follow Yakov into the garment industry for long hours of backbreaking labor at meager wages, a plight they feistily resist by helping to organize a union. Decades of want and insecurity, drawn with a sharp realism by the author, ensue, poisoning Anna’s marriage to the bitter, withdrawn Yakov and threatening the family with dissolution. Still, bad as industrial America is, it isn’t Poland, where war, famine and persecution stalk Anna’s sister Dvoyra and her family. They persevere through a series of crises while debating Zionist politics and agonizing over whether to stay or go as the threat of Hitler’s Germany looms; staying too long, Dvoyra finds herself in a ghetto where she bears witness to Nazi arrogance and atrocities. At times the novel seems like a pageant: battles and elections pass by in the background, historical figures walk onstage for brief cameos and major characters die off abruptly or disappear in the tide of events. Fortunately, Gershowitz peoples the story with lively characters torn between the desire for a better life and the pull of family roots; their travails feel real even as they drift along in a flood of calamity.
A meticulously reconstructed, moving saga of Jewish life in a terrible and hopeful century.
Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2008
Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010
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