Monday, August 18, 2014

Henna House by Nomi Eve


An evocative and stirring novel about a young woman living in the fascinating and rarely portrayed community of Yemenite Jews of the mid-twentieth century, from the acclaimed author of The Family Orchard.

In the tradition of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Henna House is the enthralling story of a woman, her family, their community, and the rituals that bind them.

Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.

Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.

Henna House is a rich, spirited, and sensuous tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, and the dyes that adorn the skin and pierce the heart.

Henna House is a deep and provocative tale about the life of a Jewish family in Yemen at the start of the 20th century. To be Jewish in Yemen during this era meant every facet of their lives was strictly controlled. Everything from what type of work was acceptable to how to ride a donkey. Failing to adhere to any of these standards meant harsh penalties. At the heart of the story is Adela whose own mother is cold and distant to her and whose father’s failing health threatens her safety. Yemeni law decrees that any child whose father dies, will be taken from the mother and given away to a Muslim family to raise, unless she is married. Despite the fact that Adela is a child under the age of 10, while her mother begins to seek a groom, Adela is introduced into the world of henna drawing by relatives.

Graced with lyrical prose, the pages of this story truly come alive with vivid details about everyday life and the art and superstitions of henna drawing. The author gives us a vibrant glimpse into a brutal regime and a harsh culture where not even the children can be safe and women are traded into marriage like sheep at the auction block. The author does not hide the cruelty and difficulties families faced. What left me moved was how women had little or no control over their fates. A great storyline, wonderful detail, and political and cultural themes are seamlessly weaved together in this poignant novel about a young girl struggling to make sense of her life and create a future for herself. A wonderful, insightful family saga! 


Advanced Reading Copy provided by Netgalley.
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