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There's no end of subjects about which I believe--whether rightly or wrongly--that I know at least a little something. But, there's no subject about which I make less pretense to comprehension than women in general and young women in particular. Indeed, a mother, a sister, a wife, and a daughter have done little more than confuse the issue so thoroughly that I long ago gave up trying to figure them out. So I'm profoundly unqualified to judge the accuracy of Ms Skolkin-Smith's portrayal of a 14-year old American girl's coming-of-age in early 1960's Jerusalem. Liana Bialik's mother has brought her and her sister back to Israel, from Westchester County, NY, after the suicide of their father. There they are surrounded by the mother's past -- helping the Haganah to win Israeli independence from the British -- and by the mystery of the much-disputed ancient city. Becoming an adult is never a simple matter, but for Liana it's made no easier by the smothering affection and odd character of her mother nor the tense geo-political setting in which she finds herself:
My mother was in her element here, I thought, it was Israel and hot. Maybe she could be happy here, not need me so much. She could wear her tent dresses, and walk barelegged, with her kerchiefs tied around her neck. She could decide dressing any morning that she was not in need of underpants, or any other undergarment. No one would care or judge her as they did in Katonah.

The setting sun was a broad, magnified flame, widening and, staring outward towards the distant field and woods, I slowly summed up all the other obstacles in my way to going to Paris: my mother, the stifling, coarse country that would watch everything I did as if we were in a police state somewhere, the fact that I had no more than a hundred dollars and a few lira saved, and beyond the garden, the small pine forest and few Jewish houses, raw barbed wire made it impossible to skip off the property, and then go up further towards the Jordanian hills. And even though the wire was old now and weather-eaten, there were buried mines in the field beyond it.
The story of how Liana escapes this claustrophobic atmosphere and navigates those figurative and literal minefields scared the bejeebies out of me as a dad, but makes for a good moody read. Ms Skolkin-Smith does an especially nice job of evoking a Jerusalem where "the war" was still the triumphal one for statehood and the future seemed full of promise, even if looking back we can better discern the shapes of the shadows that lurk in the city streets.


Grade: (B)


Leora Skolkin-Smith Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Leora Skolkin-Smith
    -BOOK SITE: Edges (Glad Day Books)
    -INTERVIEW: Choose 3 With Leora Skolkin-Smith (The Marvelous Garden, April 29, 2005)
    -INTERVIEW: Leora Skolkin-Smith (MJ Rose, May 2005, Backstory Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Edges by Leora Skolkin-Smith (Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Word Museum)
    -REVIEW: of Edges (Duffie Bart, Story Circle)

Book-related and General Links: