Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Covenant by Naomi Ragen

So I picked up this book originally because I thought it would be some lovely, touching story about a Holocaust-surviving grandmother passing on her worldly wisdom and strength to her struggling granddaughter. Think Amy Tan for Jews. I was looking for a little mush and it was nice that the context of the story was Jewish - something for me to further identify with. I got way more than I bargained for...

The Covenant is an intricate collection of stories being shared around the horrible incident of a father and daughter's kidnapping by terrorists, in Israel. Elise, the wife and mother, is Jewish, living in Israel, and in the middle of a very difficult pregnancy. Not only is she at risk of losing her unborn child, but now her young daughter and husband could be taken from her too. Julia is a Jewish reporter, working for a television network sympathetic to the Arab side of the conflict. She sees herself as anything but a Jew and stops at nothing to get her story. Ismael is Julia's driver, but he also has deep connections to Hamas. He's a terrorist, but not a killer. Then, there's Leah (Elise's grandmother), Esther, Ariana, and Maria - four women who, together, survived Auschwitz. Not all of them are Jewish, but they're members of a lifelong pact to help and support each other no matter what the cost. These four women come together, using all their resources (which turn out to be surprisingly extensive), risking the lives of their own families, to rescue the kidnapped father and daughter. It's almost as if these women survived the Holocaust just so they could build their lives to help out in this moment, with this situation.

With an intense cast of characters whose stories are portrayed evenly and fairly, The Covenant takes a unique approach to discussing the Middle East, Anti-Semitism, and terrorism. You get opinions about the issues from the characters, each one behaving as you would think based on their own experiences, and that's it. You never feel like the author had positioned a character in the novel just so it could take a certain stance and convey the author's opinions. All the characters felt very organic. Personally, I have very strong feelings on these issues but found it very amiable to read a story that didn't take a particular stance. I was able to feel sympathy where I wanted and get angry at those characters that rubbed me the wrong way on my own, without any nudging from the author.

This is an impassioned story, full of violence, fear, and urgency. You get a clear look into the scars left by surviving horrible pain and suffering. You doubt the good of humanity but eventually breathe a sigh of relief knowing that as bad as the whole may get, you can still find people, individuals, willing to do whatever it takes to save a life.

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