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The first novel by American-born Israel resident Bletter (The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women, 1989) tells the story of four American women living in Peleg, a village on the Mediterranean coast of Israel. 

The women belong to a traditional burial circle, which prepares the dead for interment. While it's supposed to be the novel’s thematic center of gravity, the group feels more like an awkward vehicle to connect the characters’ stories. Aviva grew up in New York and was recruited into spy work by what she calls “the Company” after attending a pro-Israel demonstration in college. Caught in an affair with a fellow spy, she relocated to Israel, became an English teacher, and met her husband, Rafi. Already brokenhearted by the death of her oldest son in a terrorist attack, she struggles to rebuild her life after Rafi dies of a heart attack. Lauren, a nurse from Boston, joins the burial circle after the birth of her first daughter. Deeply homesick for New England’s climate and culture, she can't stop wondering if she made a mistake in agreeing to marry her Israeli husband, David, and relocate with him to his hometown, where she doesn't feel comfortable. In contrast, Lauren’s college roommate, Emily, who follows Lauren to Peleg on a lark after being dumped by her first husband, feels immediately at home. She finds work as a receptionist at the local hotel, meets and marries a taciturn local farmer, Boaz, and soon has twin sons. But military veteran Boaz proves to be emotionally damaged, and Emily finds herself drawn to Ali, a Muslim Arab who dreams of living in America. Thrown into the mix is the annoyingly naïve Rachel, a college student who arrives as a volunteer. Having always felt like an outsider growing up in Wyoming, she embraces her Jewish identity in Israel and soon falls in love with a soldier.

Standard heartache and uplift.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-238244-3
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2015


FictionJOY FOR BEGINNERS by Erica Bauermeister
by Erica Bauermeister