Fic­tion

Shalom India Hous­ing Society

Esther David
  • Review
By – January 13, 2012

A bird’s eye view of the fic­tion­al Shalom India Hous­ing com­plex ulti­mate­ly reveals the fab­ric of its ten­ants’ hearts and lives in this anthol­o­gy of short sto­ries about a group of fic­tion­al Jews liv­ing in Ahmed­abad, India. 

The neigh­bors, who include a viva­cious wid­ow, a can­tan­ker­ous expa­tri­ate, and a hand­ful of rebel­lious ado­les­cents, belong to the Bene Israel tribe — the author her­self is a mem­ber — that arrived on India’s Konkan coast 2,000 years ago. Their descen­dants lived in rel­a­tive iso­la­tion, grad­u­al­ly mov­ing inland, until the 2002 riots in Ahmed­abad com­pelled David’s cast to seek com­mu­nal hous­ing for protection. 

The tales are amus­ing, such as the cross-dress­ing teenag­er and the young girl who pines for him, but ulti­mate­ly bit­ter­sweet as char­ac­ters con­front inter-faith mar­riage, love, and death. David cap­tures the per­spec­tive of the Jew­ish female — at dif­fer­ent stages of life and love — espe­cial­ly well. 

Prophet Eli­jah, the book’s invis­i­ble but omni­scient nar­ra­tor, spins a web con­nect­ing the neigh­bors and their strug­gles, with seam­less tran­si­tions between chap­ters. The bond unit­ing the res­i­dents of the Shalom India Hous­ing Soci­ety — some­times inten­tion­al, some­times not — under­scores David’s belief in the pow­er of com­mu­ni­ty. Her sto­ries of lev­i­ty and grav­i­ty are equal­ly com­pelling; the result is as rich and vibrant as the cur­ries the Bene Israel Jews eat and the saris they wear.

Discussion Questions