Wow, where do I start? THE COVENANT has so much depth, with characters so rich you want to telephone them for an interview and a story so frightening that it will leave your spine tingling for days, if not weeks. With its contemporary theme, it brings the horror that was Auschwitz to the present, and contrasts that historical inhumanity with today's terrors.
American Elise Margulies lives in the holy land, thrilled to own a piece of it where she and her husband, Dr. Jon, can raise their toddler Ilana and unborn child. The one drawback to the house is its distance from the hospital where Jon gives cancer patients treatment and hope. In the past few months, it has become increasingly dangerous to drive through the rural areas so vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Refusing to live in constant fear, the Margulies family continues life as usual, in the naïve belief that something is being done to keep the roads safe. But then one day the unthinkable happens. The car in which Jon drove Ilana to her ballet recital is found, empty --- and riddled with bullets.
With no bodies at the scene, Elise allows herself to hope. But she has forgotten that death isn't always the worst that can happen. A videotape arrives, showing her husband and her daughter in the hands of Muslim extremists, making unmeetable demands in exchange for their lives. Elise despairs, until she makes a call to her Grandmother Leah.
A petite Jewish lady, Leah has survived Auschwitz. And she has friends --- three powerful, determined, loyal old women who formed the Covenant during their encampment. There is little the world can throw at them that would hurt them more than they already have been. Injuring a granddaughter or her family is one of them. The members of the Covenant join together once again, this time to free Jon and Ilana. These women do not have government's limitations or its political paralysis. Favors are called in and the rescue operation begins. But it's a sticky business, and keeping faith that Elise's family will return home becomes an almost insurmountable task. To make matters worse, Elise starts to worry that she will lose her unborn child from the stress of it all. She sorely needs Grandmother Leah's strength. Thankfully, Leah has strength enough for them both.
The author lives in Jerusalem, so despite the fact that this is --- technically --- a work of fiction, it is very real. Her knowledge of the tensions between the Palestinians and the Israelis stems from dealing with it daily. Everything about this story rings with chilling authenticity.
I came away from my experience --- and, yes, it is an experience --- reading this book with a far better understanding of who today's terrorists are and how they choose their course in life. Ms. Ragen exposes them as bloodthirsty extremists with no real care about peace or the teachings of true Islam. If peace were to settle over the land they claim to be fighting for, they would need to stir up trouble elsewhere, simply to feed their passion for violence. It is all they know.
It is very rare indeed that I consider a book a must-read, but THE COVENANT is a definite must-read.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 28, 2010