The Family Orchard
"I TELL: ...I would like to believe that somewhere in the past, in the realm of visionaries, scribes, and priests, there is some kind ancient who could scribble out passages with the power to hurt us, and those with the power to heal. I bend lower to the ground and with my fingers write a familiar name in the earth. It's not so much that I want to erase the past as that I want to create a present and future different from all this. I want to delete our pain, revise our prose, until the story tells us all in a gentler manner."
While THE FAMILY ORCHARD is indeed a family story, it may well be like no other you've ever read. Author Nomi Eve makes liberal use of exciting writing devices, including using a narrator named Nomi Eve and moving back and forth between telling the story from a historical perspective, from her father's perspective, and from her own perspective. What's more, you'll get an education in the history of the state of Israel, how to run an orchard, legends, magic --- and more.
In 1837 Esther Herschell, granddaughter of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, marries an Eastern European Rabbi named Yochanan Schine. The young couple immigrates to Palestine where Esther very quickly becomes involved in an illicit love affair with a young man in Jerusalem. Yochanan discovers this, and for some reason, it actually seems to draw him and his wife into a closer relationship. The affair and what results from it is used as a metaphor for the mysteries and magical spells the city can weave upon both visitors and residents alike: "No, thought Esther, Jerusalem is not a place for regular sleep. Only for a kind of restless burrowing inward that leaves a soul dreamily awake all day long." So she dreamed and slept with her husband whom she adored until the day she died...
Yochanan remarries, and the story moves along through one generation and another, with the family growing and changing as people are born, marry, and die. Soon World War I has broken out, and Avra, the granddaughter of Yochanan, is working for the Turkish pasha as a cleaning woman. She is also stealing bullets, while pregnant, and turning them over to Israeli spies. Her identical twin sons Moshe and Zohar grow up during these tumultuous early years that define the Israeli struggle independence.
Author Eve uses this extended family to narrate a brief Jewish history. We see the individuals as dreamers, breadwinners, fighters, and lovers. We learn of their hopes, aspirations, and prayers. And we see them all, in one way or another, anchored to a small city six miles east of Tel Aviv called Petach Tikvah, the citrus growing center of the Jewish Settlement.
In the Prologue it says, "the beginning is in the trees. All of them... If I had to choose a beginning, I would tell you about all of these trees." This original work of fiction is satisfying on many levels. It is a good story as well as an informative work about history (included are family trees, information about grafting trees and maintaining orchards, reproductions of engravings of Palestine, and things related to horticulture and orchards). Lastly, THE FAMILY ORCHARD is an example of an innovative piece of writing. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Jill Zaklow on September 26, 2000