On The Bookshelf
Selected news and feature stories
from the Detroit Jewish News.
) Back In Time
Look for Alexis P. Rubin's
"This Month in Jewish History"
The politics, intrigue and romance of 1924 Jerusalem meet in
the novel `A. Palestine Affair."
) What's Eating
) Connecting with
In her winning essay, Andi
Rosenthal shares her journey
of converting to Judaism as a
way of connecting with the
past and looking forward to
the future. Read it on
) %low We Dolt'
In his weekly column on
Jewish.com , Brian Blum
shares how those in Israel try
to go about their "normal"
routines in the face of daily
terror and tragedy.
Patti's Parties ... www.pattisparties.invitations.com
Special to the Jewish News
British serviceman is singing
a sentimental song of the
moment from London,
while British officers, the
mufti and several sheiks, Jewish and Arab
judges and lawyers and visiting artists
socialize in a Jerusalem garden, outside
the governor's home.
This scene, early in Jonathan Wilson's
new novel, A Palestine Affair (Pantheon;
$23), is one of the first to clearly signal
that the setting is an earlier, very different
time. This is 1924, during the period of
the British Mandate.
The title hints at several tangled affairs
at the core of this artfully written novel
— affairs of the heart, of politics, of his-
tory, roots, of conflicting truths and also
Wilson, a British-born professor who
heads the English department at Tufts
University, sets his tale against a land-
scape of great beauty and intrigue with
conflicts unfolding between Arab and
Jew, but, moreover, between Zionist and
non-Zionist Jews living in Palestine at
the time, and between those Zionists
who favored the use of violence and
those who abhorred its use.
Soon after they arrive in Jerusalem, the
English Jewish artist Mark Bloomberg
and his American-born wife Joyce are
startled when a man in Arab garb stum-
bles into their garden one evening, falls
into Mark's arms and then crashes to the
ground. On closer look, they realize that
the dead man under the kaffiyeh is an
Orthodox Jew: He is a Dutch poet
turned journalist named Jacob DeGroot,
and his murder stuns the community.
Robert Kirsch, a British police officer
who's Jewish, is assigned to the case by
the governor, and the main suspect is a
young Arab boy. All of these lives are
then knit together in an intricate, closely
Joyce, although a gentile, is the most
committed Zionist among them. She
had dreamed of Palestine from London
and feels a powerful sense of belonging
when she arrives, as though Jerusalem
was her destiny. Bloomberg is mourning
the death of his mother and his closest
friends killed in World War I. He won-
ders if he is indeed in Jerusalem because
of his late friend Jacob, who wrote poems
about a Jerusalem he never got to see;
perhaps he is "bringing the dead home,
taking the ghost on a tour of the mar-
Although Bloomberg's initial assign-
ment is to do the kinds of paintings he
thinks of as propaganda, he becomes
captivated by the light.
Kirsch, too, was propelled to Palestine
by loss: His brother was killed in the war,
and his parents' grief was smothering
him. But he set off for this posting in the
same way he would have gone to India
or Australia, not thinking much about
Jews. He is surprised that the Judaism
that was so irrelevant in his London years
is noticed repeatedly in Jerusalem.
The ensuing cinematic scenes — tak-
ing place over six months — involve
romance, violence, clandestine gun deliv-
eries, colonial sensibility, riots, lots of
serendipitous meetings, much passion,
shifting identities and the testing of
moral values and ideals. To tell more of
the plot would take away from the pleas-
ures of reading the novel.
In an interview, Wilson, who lived in
Israel between 1977 and 1981 and visit-
ed many times, admits that the Middle
East place "certainly seems to have taken
hold of my imagination." His first novel,
The Hiding Room, is set in 1940s
Palestine and Cairo, and he has pub-
fished stories set in contemporary Israel.
He explains that he was drawn to this
novel's place and period in several ways.
Just as he had looked back to Jerusalem
in the early 1940s in The Hiding Room,
he wanted "to look a little further back"
in this novel.
"I was drawn to the raw beauty of the
place, in particular Jerusalem, its Old
City more or less unchanged for hun-
dreds of years, but beyond its high walls
a rough and tumble development and an
assortment of new arrivals, dreamers,
charlatans, lovers of ideas and lovers, all
suitably displaced — an environment of
stones, debris, construction, and wild
flowers growing in the crevices," Wilson
Additionally, the idea gained clarity
after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin,
when there was much talk about the
"singularity of his death, how Jews did
not politically assassinate Jews. Actually,
the history of Jewish Jewishrelations in
Palestine was more complicated — dark-
er — than most people think."
The novel is loosely based on an actual
murder that took place in 1924, when a
Dutch Jew named Yaakov DeHaan was
killed by Jews outside of Sharei Tzedek
Hospital. That story is little known out-
side of Israel; the culprits were discovered
more than 50 years later.