Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Jephte's Daughter by Naomi Ragen

Beautiful and indulged Batsheva is the sole heir of the Ha-Levi dynasty whose followers are the orthodox Hassidic community.  As such she is bound by tradition and grows up in a closed but wealthy environment in California.

Only 18 years of age, her adored father chooses a husband for her; an Hassidic scholar from Jerusalem who he is certain is the right choice to continue the Ha-Levi line.  As she moves to Jerusalem as a young bride, Batsheva thinks she has found a life of excitement and romance.  She is soon disillusioned as her husband’s view of marriage is vastly different from her own.  As she grieves for her lost dreams she continues to hope for escape from the prison that has become her life.

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand it was an interesting portrayal of the author’s view of a strict Hassidic community whilst on the other hand, some of the characters and situations just felt completely unrealistic to me.  I don’t want to give specific examples as I don’t wish to give the plot away but suffice to say, the book seemed to have two very distinct halves.

The first part concentrates on Batsheva’s life as the indulged daughter of a wealthy business man in California.  She is portrayed as a typical American Jewish princess who is spoiled and pampered.  She is so happy and full of life, so naïve and innocent that to me, as a reader, it was pretty obvious that she was being set up for a fall.  As she moves to Jerusalem with her new husband it quickly becomes obvious what form that fall will take and it was clear to see that her husband was not a man of religion and Jewish law but a bully and a control freak.  At this point, the book really had something to say.

However, when we get to the second half of the book it just sort of degenerates into a very average plot line although it picks up slightly nearer to the end.  I particularly found the character of David to be completely unbelievable and there were far too many coincidences for the plot to pull together neatly for me.  Whilst, I had ravenously read the first half I was having to make a lot more effort with the second half.

Putting all of those comments to one side for the moment, I adored Naomi Ragen’s beautiful descriptions of the sights and sounds of Israel.  She is an American who now lives in Jerusalem and her passion for her surroundings is reflected in her writing.  She was certainly able to transport this humble reader to an exotic landscape and left me longing to pack my bags and visit Jerusalem at the first opportunity.

Although this review sounds rather negative I did actually enjoy most of the book and would certainly consider reading another book by this author.  I always struggle with books that portray characters as stereotypes and this bothered me quite alot when reading this.  However, parts of it were fascinating and evocative of time and place and I liked it very much for those reasons.  This was the author’s first book and I would really like to read more of her to see how she has progressed as a writer.

ISBN:  978-0312570231

Publisher:  Macmillan

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.com):  $11.64 / £7.19
This only seems to be available in the UK from Market Place sellers but is readily available in the US.  I borrowed this copy from a friend.

Total saving so far:  £63.57

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