Friday, July 31, 2015

Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope

I bought this book because I know relatives of the author and I thought I should support her first novel.  And I'm really glad I decided to do that because the book was very enjoyable - well written with an intriguing storyline.

The thread that ties the story is that of an expensive, hand made brooch apparently made by a Jewish jeweller in the the 1300s and passed down from generation to generation until we find it in 1994 in the hands of a young drunk from New York who is recovering from the death of his grandfather.  He arrives at a Kibbutz in Israel determined to give it to the one woman, Dagmar, who is grandfather felt was worthy of it - his only problem is finding Dagmar.

But the real story is about the people we meet on the Kibbutz.  First there is Adam - he feels very guilty as he had stolen the brooch to pawn it and pay off his drug debts right before his grandfather, who raised him, dies of a heart attack while holding the empty box the brooch was taken from as well as a goodbye letter from Dagmar written 50 years earlier.  We see his guilt as he struggles with addiction, the role he played in his grandfather's death and the terrible things he did to recover the brooch (we only learn the full extent of those in the epilogue).  On the Kibbutz he befriends Ulya, an immigrant from Belarus who only pretended to be Jewish to escape her homeland and dreams of moving to Manhattan.  She initially pretends to love Adam so he will take her to the US; later she is obsessed with stealing the brooch to finance her future with the Arab labourer she is really in love with.

Ulya is roommates with Claudette, an French Canadian with OCD who was raised in a convent and is trying desperately to escape her past and her obsessions.  She becomes the only friend of Ziva - a strong willed elderly woman who founded the Kibbutz prior to the founding of the State of Israel and is fighting desperately for it to retain its socialist ideals.  Ziva is perhaps the most interesting character; we hear of her brave departure from Germany, her early days in Palestine, her relationship with Dov, her best friend who becomes her husband and her love of Franz who she sets free so she can pursue her Zionist dreams.

In addition to learning about the lives of all of these interesting characters, we hear of the history of the brooch (though with gaps when if falls into the hands of young men who are too self absorbed at times to listen to its tale) and see the history of Israel through the eyes of its earliest pioneers.

All in all this was a great read.  My only disappointment was with the epilogue - I would have liked a bit more closure on what happened to the characters, but I guess it's not a bad thing to keep me thinking about them...

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