I want to have coffee with Ruth Shapira, the protagonist in Kathryn Jacobi’s first novel, and her friends. In fact, I used to have coffee with a group of friends just like them. Although my friends met in a suburban strip mall in LA and Ruth’s friends met at a sidewalk café in northern Israel, the ritual of a weekly coffee klatch builds the kinds of friendships that are steadfast support in a blustery world.
And the winds of change blow hard soon after the novel opens, when Hezbollah starts launching missiles just to the north of Ruth’s home. The war drives two women into Ruth’s life: Yelena, a Russian prima donna fleeing from a northern city under heavy shelling; and Samira, a highly competent, uncompromising Muslim housekeeper. The bonds between these women collapse racial tensions from an area the size of a country into an area the size of Ruth’s home. An immigrant to Israel from New York, Ruth’s reactions are not always shared by those of native Israelis, including Ruth’s own husband.
The plot thickens, and then war thickens it some more. It places Ruth’s only son Ari squarely between the crosshairs of the Hezbollah. It pushes Yelena’s son and Samira’s daughter into a bomb shelter together, igniting star-crossed teenage passion. It terrorizes Muslim children in the next village. It takes the life of a friend’s son.
Yet, Jacobi keeps control. The characters read real, and their responses believable. As the cast grows and the relationships between them intensify, Jacobi’s fiction does what factual reporting often misses – it illuminates the subtlety of the connections between people. Life is not easy in a place where conflict ripples through every relationship, but like this book, it’s rich and complex, and as satisfying as a hot cup of coffee with friends.
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