A latticework of personal tragedies and cultural history underpins Shiri-Horowitz’s debut novel about immigrant lives in Israel, translated from the Hebrew by Shira Atik.
Violet and Farida Twaina, the youngest daughters of a Jewish Iraqi family, find their lives upended during “The Exodus” in the 1940s, when Jews fled the country to escape retaliation during the creation of Israel. Abandoning a sprawling house in Baghdad, the family arrives as refugees at an Israeli transit camp and then scatters to far-flung kibbutzim. Violet and Farida remain inseparable through this time of hardship, and subsequently through marriage and the births of their children. Their lives slowly return to normalcy, but other sorrows await—the death of their beloved former playmate, Eddie; early widowhood and its attendant loneliness for Farida; and an untimely diagnosis of terminal cancer for Violet. In her final months, Violet writes a diary for her children, Noa and Guy, to ensure the family’s past stays alive. The journal forms one part of the triptych of shifting points of view that illuminate this generational saga. Farida and Noa, meanwhile, offer insight into the family’s present and future. If political betrayals scarred the older generation, Noa grapples with betrayals of a more personal nature. Her emotional journey offers a counterpoint to the family’s earlier journey from persecution. Despite its somber narrative arc, the novel is leavened with passion (above all else, for food, which is almost a fourth protagonist). The Twaina sisters’ zest for life, despite setbacks, is seen in the dying Violet’s rich evocation of the culture of Iraqi Jews and in matronly Farida’s spirited foray to a beauty salon to have her hair cut, colored and styled. Such moments offset occasionally stodgy prose and some heavy-handed exposition. These are minor flaws, however, in a novel that brims with love for a community that no longer exists, and for the women who ensure that this lost community will not be forgotten.
A sympathetic tale of love, loss and loneliness highlighting a largely underrepresented community.