A Remark­able Kindness

  • Review
By – May 18, 2015

Diana Bletter’s excel­lent writ­ing makes the char­ac­ters of A Remark­able Kind­ness come alive in this mov­ing sto­ry about com­mu­ni­ty, fam­i­ly, per­son­al growth, and dif­fi­cult loss in Israel. All liv­ing in an Israeli vil­lage close to the bor­der with Lebanon, the four Amer­i­can women sup­port each oth­er through life’s chal­lenges in the chevra kadisha, togeth­er prepar­ing bod­ies of deceased neigh­bors for bur­ial with respect and love. There is Avi­va, who moved to Israel long ago and whose son recent­ly died as sol­dier in the IDF; Lau­ren, who fol­lowed her Israeli hus­band home but for whom home will always be Boston; Emi­ly, who fol­lowed Lau­ren after Emily’s first mar­riage fell apart when her hus­band left her for anoth­er woman; and Rachel, who comes from Wyoming to help, what­ev­er that means, and finds real love instead. And there are the peo­ple of their com­mu­ni­ty — the own­er of the local inn, Holo­caust sur­vivors, the local surf­ing instruc­tor, and so many more — who add per­spec­tive, wis­dom, and laugh­ter to every­day life.

Rela­tion­ships are the cor­ner­stone of this nov­el: rela­tion­ships between friends, between cou­ples, between fam­i­lies, between those who came to Israel long ago and those who have recent­ly arrived, between Jew­ish Israelis and Arab Israelis, between kids and adults, and even for those who appear too hurt to be in a rela­tion­ship with any­one but open up after all. These rela­tion­ships are not easy; the uni­ver­sal ten­sions of love, betray­al, and change arise in some­times typ­i­cal — and oth­er times sur­pris­ing — ways. But Bletter’s expert atten­tion to the details of emo­tion and the authen­tic­i­ty of lived expe­ri­ence car­ries the read­er through sad­ness and con­fu­sion to wisdom.

With her clear, coher­ent, and poignant writ­ing, Blet­ter deliv­ers a book that is easy and quick to read but still mean­ing­ful and pow­er­ful on a deep­er lev­el. The end, part shock­ing and part real­i­ty check, com­bined with detailed descrip­tions of the work of the chevra kadisha, means the book is best suit­ed to those who are in a posi­tion to open them­selves to these hard top­ics. That said, Blet­ter han­dles these sen­si­tive sub­jects with grace and sen­si­tiv­i­ty, and read­ers will learn a lot about the world and them­selves from this fan­tas­tic book.

Rachel Sara Rosen­thal is an envi­ron­men­tal attor­ney in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Orig­i­nal­ly from Greens­boro, North Car­oli­na, she grad­u­at­ed from Duke Uni­ver­si­ty in 2003 and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law in 2006.

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