Bonds forged in Auschwitz help a young mother caught in the Intifada to survive—in a scrupulously fair-minded and riveting tale of current Israel.
A deft mix of past and present, the story’s as much political thriller as conventional tale about the ties of family and friendship. The representative cast of characters here includes journalists, Saudi Arabians, Palestinians, and Jewish settlers, as well as members of Hamas. Herself a long-time resident of Israel, Ragen (Chains Around the Grass, 2002, etc.) is putting the case for that country, but she does it with considerable sensitivity. Things begin in 2002 with American-born Elise, confined to bed because of a difficult second pregnancy, relying on her oncologist husband Jonathan to take their daughter, five-year-old Ilana, to day-care. The Margulieses live in one of the controversial settlements, and Jonathan must pass through dangerous Palestinian-held areas on his way to the hospital, where he takes care of both Palestinians and Jews. Later that day, homeward-bound with Ilana, his car is ambushed and the two disappear. Elise, in shock at the news, is rushed to hospital. When Leah, Elise’s grandmother and a Holocaust survivor, learns in New York what’s happened, she flies to Israel, but not before contacting the three other women who swore an oath—a covenant—to help one another survive Auschwitz. The three—Esther, a cosmetics mogul, who lives in California; Ariana, who owns a famous nightclub in Paris; and Maria, a Polish Catholic—immediately rally round: Esther contacts her granddaughter, who’s married to a Saudi with contacts in high places; Ariana uses her club sources to compromise a Hamas leader; and Maria sends her grandson Milos to Israel, where he befriends Julia, a Palestinian sympathizer and TV journalist, who unknowingly has contacts involved in dangerous pursuits.
No perfect ending, but enough redemption and hope make this a quiet celebration of survival.