Reflections of a young American wife and mother trying to make a home in war-torn Jerusalem.
A peripatetic writer whose first memoir, The Bread of Angels, chronicled her life in Damascus while learning Arabic, here Saldaña (English/Al-Quds Bard Coll.) chronicles the latest leg of her life’s journey: leaving the monastery in the Syrian desert she often visited to marry a French monk, Frédéric. An American from Texas who grew up Catholic, the author was from a vastly different world than her deeply devout husband. Yet they were both avid travelers, and after getting married in his provincial hometown in France, they decided to settle, implausibly, in Jerusalem. Born under a lucky star, as his mother described him, Frédéric found the couple a home in a huge old house next to a monastery on Nablus Road, just outside the gates of the Old City: the “scar” between the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Saldaña’s Arab neighbors—e.g., the falafel seller who claimed her front steps for business—were intrigued by her and her Christianity as well as by her ability to speak Arabic with them; she wondered if they thought she was a spy. Many of her neighbors were bossy yet well-meaning, and when she finally got pregnant with her first child, their devotion and kindness deeply moved her. However, there was the constant specter of war just outside the borders of the neighborhood, where the Israeli soldiers constantly harassed the Palestinians for their identification papers, and the tension remained high. With limpid, often shimmering prose, Saldaña builds an impressive sense of genuine emotion, and she vividly explores the array of life in that seething section of Jerusalem. The couple’s first child was born in a hospital in Bethlehem—among other ironies beautifully understated.
A serene memoir in which the author takes valuable time to regard the character of the Palestinian people and their way of life.