Hen­na House

  • Review
By – April 30, 2014

Nomi Eve, prizewin­ning author of The Fam­i­ly Orchard, has woven a mag­i­cal and fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry, set in an obscure cor­ner of his­to­ry, unfa­mil­iar to almost every­one. Adela Damari lives in a tiny vil­lage in the moun­tains of Yemen. The Yemenite com­mu­ni­ty that sur­rounds her fol­lows ancient Jew­ish tra­di­tions and dress. Adela her­self wears a gar­gush, a sil­ver crown-like head­piece trimmed with coins. She lives in a com­plex with her sour moth­er, lov­ing but sick father, and a tribe of broth­ers, sis­ters-in-law, and their many children.

Adela, and most young chil­dren in her small town, live in dead­ly fear of the Con­fis­ca­tor, a Mus­lim offi­cial who has the legal right to seize orphaned Jew­ish chil­dren and give them up for adop­tion to Mus­lim fam­i­lies, where they will have to con­vert and for­get their for­mer lives. To pre­vent this, many Jews engage their sev­en and eight-year-olds to avoid their being kid­napped. Adela, luck­i­ly, is engaged to her cousin Assaf who has appeared with his elder­ly father in their small town. They are traders who trav­el the ancient spice route.

An inte­gral part of the Yemenite women’s cul­ture is the prac­tice of hen­na: draw­ing elab­o­rate paint­ings on each oth­er at par­ties. Adela’s moth­er for­bids her to attend these par­ties until the arrival of anoth­er uncle, aunt, and cousin, Hani. Aunt Rahel is an expert hen­na artist and final­ly Adela is allowed to join this almost mys­te­ri­ous cus­tom of women. She shows an affin­i­ty for the art, and through learn­ing hen­na designs, learns how to read and write.

Sad­ly, Assaf and his father depart again on their jour­neys. Adela’s moth­er can­cels the engage­ment and Adela again quakes at the thought of the immi­nent appear­ance of the Con­fis­ca­tor, since both her par­ents die soon, only months apart from each oth­er. Adela’s warm fam­i­ly cir­cle keeps her from harm and after extend­ed droughts in the vil­lage the fam­i­ly tribe departs secret­ly for Aden where they live well and hap­pi­ly. Thrust into the mod­ern world for the first time, Adela sees auto­mo­biles, street lights and mul­ti-col­ored peo­ple for the first time. The fam­i­ly women all adhere to the wear­ing of hen­na designs and Adela waits by the port every day try­ing to seek out her beloved Assaf.

His return brings tragedy and cat­a­stro­phe inter­wo­ven with the hen­na designs. Pogroms make Aden less and less wel­com­ing to the Jews and in 1947 on The Wings of Eagles” Israel air­lifts the Yemenite com­mu­ni­ty to Israel, where final­ly, Adela finds her peace and happiness.

Hen­na House not only tells a com­pelling sto­ry about char­ac­ters the read­er cares about, but also illu­mi­nates a time and way of life unknown to most.

Suri Boiangiu recent­ly semi-retired from the posi­tion of assis­tant prin­ci­pal at an all-girls high school. She has either been an admin­is­tra­tor or taught Eng­lish at Yeshiv­ah of Flat­bush and Magen David High School. She loves read­ing mod­ern fic­tion, or any fic­tion, and Ama­zon knows her by her first name.

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