Guest­house for Gane­sha: A Novel

  • Review
By – June 11, 2019

Guest­house for Gane­sha is an unusu­al Holo­caust nov­el; although this mys­ti­cal tale begins in 1920s Poland, it ends in 1940s India.

The sto­ry unfolds with Esther Grünspan, left alone under the chup­pah by her great love. This betray­al trans­forms a hope­ful girl into a cold woman. She rejects her fam­i­ly and her­itage, deny­ing her past as she relo­cates to Ger­many. Esther’s incred­i­ble sewing skills pro­vide her with a new life. She barters her ser­vices to learn Ger­man and builds a busi­ness in her quest for self-preser­va­tion. One evening, Esther sees an incon­gru­ous look­ing shack sell­ing samosas. She briefly speaks to the Indi­an own­er and is inex­plic­a­bly drawn to a pic­ture of Gane­sha, the Hin­du ele­phant-head­ed deity. She feels unex­pect­ed warmth and peace dur­ing this encounter that will change her life forever.

In fact, Esther’s sto­ry is nar­rat­ed by Gane­sha, the god of new begin­nings, suc­cess, wis­dom, and Remover of Obsta­cles. Ganesha’s words are seen in var­i­ous forms, includ­ing ital­i­cized poet­ry, com­men­tary, and asides. The god sees every human as a guest­house for the spir­it and pro­vides for their needs. Ganesha’s whis­pers and atten­tions inter­cede to save Esther time and again on her har­row­ing journey.

After Esther enters a love­less mar­riage to the cob­bler and has three chil­dren, she watch­es, with her bit­ter­ness swelling,” as seeds of hate and ter­ror grow through­out the 1930s. Aid­ed by her prac­ti­cal skills, Esther and her young son sur­vive by hid­ing in plain sight as they move through­out Europe. The his­tor­i­cal back­drop of World War II is vivid­ly cap­tured through­out their flight, and her sur­vival is ensured as she sens­es a pres­ence she doesn’t ful­ly comprehend.

Judith Teitelman’s debut nov­el asks the read­er to believe in the jour­ney. The descrip­tive lan­guage moves the plot in com­pelling and imag­i­na­tive ways. The inter­twin­ing of Esther’s life on the run and her even­tu­al self-real­iza­tion in India is nar­rat­ed with com­pas­sion. From the dream­like pro­logue to the final epi­logue, this is a pow­er­ful and absorb­ing read — a nov­el writ­ten with love in the spir­it of heal­ing and renewal.

Reni­ta Last is a mem­ber of Nas­sau Region of Hadassah’s Exec­u­tive Board. She has long coor­di­nat­ed the Film Forum Series for the Region and served as Record­ingSec­re­tary. She cur­rent­ly holds the post of Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor. She has vol­un­teered at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty teach­ing the lessons of the Holo­caust and tol­er­ance. A retired teacher of the Gift­ed and Tal­ent­ed, she loves par­tic­i­pat­ing in book clubs and writ­ing projects.

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