I first met Zahava D. Englard in the bank. My sister-in-law, Miriam, introduced her as “This is Zahava, she just got her first book published.” I was immediately interested. After all, how many authors do you get to meet running mundane errands?
“Oh, really! How cool! What’s it about? Fiction or Nonfiction?” I inquired.
A flash of pride (and something else – mischief?) passed over Zahava’s face as she told me it was a fictional novel that takes place in Israel. “It’s not your typical Jewish book,” she promised me with a hint to the steamy romantic scenes. I enthusiastically agreed to review it.
Zahava was 100% right. This is not your typical Jewish novel, so this will not be a typical review. You can go to the book’s Amazon page to read the description.
The Gilboa Iris is engrossing and interesting to read with rich, descriptive language that grabs you and pulls you into the story, the settings, and the lives of the characters. The characters themselves are well developed and captivating. The reader is introduced to the lead characters, Dara and Roni, and is immediately intrigued by their story. The story, told partially in flashback, is teased out in a way that leaves the reader always wanting more, making it a hard book to put down.
At its essence, The Gilboa Iris is a love story. It is not only about the romance between the characters, but about the love of the Land of Israel. Dara, a native New Yorker, comes to work on a Kibbutz and finds she must make her home in Israel. Roni, the tough IDF officer scarred by the First Lebanon War, displays a dedication to home and country that is so much a part of the collective mentality of Israelis, but hard to fully explain. The story spans the width and breadth of the country too, taking place in the northeast Gilboa Mountain region, to the seashore of Arsuf, and the hills of Gush Etzion. There are also trips to New York and Germany thrown in for adventure. The time period of the story, from mid 1980s to early 2000s gives the reader an inside perspective to Israel’s continued security challenges and how the casualties of terror attacks and wars are not only those who die, but those who survive them, and those that are left behind.
All in all, the book’s intrigue, romance, and heartbreak tells not only Dara and Roni’s story, but the story of the people and land of Israel.
So no, Zahava, it is certainly not your typical “Jewish” book, but congratulations on creating a quintessentially “Israeli” book.