THE FAMILY ORCHARD by Nomi Eve
Kirkus Star

THE FAMILY ORCHARD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Strong echoes of Aleichem and Singer sound throughout this ambitious first novel, a piecemeal portrayal of a Jewish family in Europe, the Holy Land, and America from the 1830s to the present day.

The dual narrative is initially awkward: brief factual summaries (under the heading “My Father Writes”) offer capsule versions of longer stories told by a narrator eventually identified as “Nomi.” There follows a rich parade of colorful characters and dramatic incidents: some lavishly developed, others quickly sketched, many given a pronounced magical-realist coloring. Eve begins in Jerusalem with the figures of Rabbi Yochanan Schine and his adulterous wife Esther, then moves on (back and forth among Russia, Jerusalem’s Old and New Cities, and several other key locations)—in a manner that sometimes seems as haphazard as it is chronological and calculated—to focus successively on the happy marriage of “Avra the Thief” and her husband Shimon, an orchard worker in the village of Petach Tikvah (“the citrus-growing center of the Jewish Settlement”); the contrasting fates of their twin sons Zohar and Moshe, growing up during the flowering of Arab-Israeli tensions in the 1920s; the suspected murder, in 1851, of an esteemed ancestor; Zohar’s wife Miriam the seamstress, who “sews” stories both real and imaginary into the garments she creates; their participation in an underground illegal immigration movement during the (1940s) British Mandate in Palestine—an activity mocked by the “disappearance” of their deformed, in effect discarded youngest son Gabriel; and the dream-haunted, “uprooted” life of Gabriel’s brother (and narrator Nomi’s father) Eliezer, in Jerusalem and America. The metaphor of grafting is employed (and explained, in a concluding “manual of orchard terms”) to describe how this novel separates, splices, and otherwise connects the individual stories—even while acknowledging the ultimate mystery and unknowability (“Family chronology defies consciousness”) of the souls herein both preserved in memory and lost to history.

Erratic, often lyrically overpowering, bountifully imagined. This isn’t the Jewish One Hundred Years of Solitude, but one suspects Eve may yet be capable of producing it.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-41076-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2000




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