The Family Orchard
by Nomi Eve


Knopf NY, 2000. ISBN 0375410767.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 01/30/2001

Fiction: Multi-Cultural; Fiction: Historical

Yes, it is a novel, but written in the form of not one, but two journals by a father, Eliezer, and a daughter, Nomi. Eliezer researches the outline of six generations of this family, and Nomi fills in the glorious—and possibly true colors. And occasionally tells rather than writes.

Although most of the story is set in what is now Israel, the prologue sets the scene with the marriage of Esther and Yochanan in London and their departure for Jerusalem. And there, Nomi imagines, Esther meets the baker. "The baker stood before her—a destination slim and brown... He seemed to her like something carved out of precious wood: miniature, masculine and muscular all at once."

The family grows and the story continues in a lush, and often-sensual fashion. When the next generation leaves Jerusalem for a small farm community with a citrus orchard, the grandfather remains a connection to Jerusalem. Eve's description of the old inner city of Jerusalem depicts the City with it twists and turns, spices and smell, sounds and light even as it is today. She captures the magic of the City and goes on to capture the scents and feel of the Palestine, and later Israel countryside.

As the orchard grows, so does the family and so does the fledgling country. And each generation of the family is deeply intertwined with the development of the orchard and the development of the country. I learned both history and orchard tending, almost accidentally, while following the generations through time. The time before Israel became a country when illegal refugees were spirited into the country was mesmerizing. "On nights they knew refugees were coming, all the young women and older girls would go to one of the restaurants in town where the British soldiers were congregating... They would wear revealing clothes and dance with the soldiers... And while the women were distracting the soldiers, the men would be on the beach... [to smuggle refugees into Palestine.]"

Throughout the book there are lovely Victorian looking linecut illustrations depicting both the life of the people and methods for tending the orchard. Because the family and the orchard are so inter-dependent, this information is enhancing. The Family Orchard is a book to savor.

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