Debut collection spotlighting the little-known but centuries-old culture of the Bene Israel community in the author’s native India.
Judah’s 19 stories follow the Jewish inhabitants of a fictional town in central India from the 1890s to the near present, by which time most have immigrated (as the author herself did) to Israel. The first two tales, set in the years between 1890 and 1930, display a humorous yet mythic tone reminiscent of family histories handed down orally over generations. As time passes, the fictional edges become sharper, the sociology and psychology more contemporary. In “My Friend Joseph,” for example, narrator Bentzion charmingly describes how he and Joseph met and wooed their wives after serving in the Boer War. Many years later, in “A Girl from My Hometown,” the two friends stand helplessly by while their grandchildren’s marriage arrangement falls apart after Joseph’s grandson announces his plan to emigrate. Still later, an aged, lonely Joseph meets another grandson, raised in Israel, who visits India on a lark after finishing his military service (a frequent motif here). Two stories in the 1930–64 section lightheartedly follow the evolution of Benjamin and Hannah’s childhood friendship into love and marriage despite class differences and the snobbery of Hannah’s mother. Tragedy strikes the couple, and later their offspring, in tales that take place from 1964 to 2000. The third main narrative strand follows Jude Paul, born Judah Saul, the illegitimate son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother who left him at the local Catholic Church to be raised by a priest. In “My Son, Jude Paul,” the priest worries about Jude’s bitterness toward his father, but Jude matures over the course of subsequent stories into the most complex character here, a successful, yet emotionally sensitive military officer.
A fascinating mix of the exotic and the familiar.