Wednesday, September 2, 2009

REVIEW: Shalom India Housing Society, by Esther David

Shalom India Housing Society: a novel, by Esther David. Published 2009 by the Feminist Press at CUNY.

Click here to buy Shalom India Housing Society via IndieBound.org. I'm an IndieBound affiliate and receive a small commission on sales.

Shalom India Housing Society is a light, lively novel-in-stories about the Bene Israel, a community of Jews settled in India since they were shipwrecked over 2,000 years ago. The stories follow a large cast of characters- kids, adults, happy couples, star-crossed lovers and lonely widows and widowers- following their lives, loves, hopes and dreams.

There were lots of things I enjoyed about Shalom India, especially the detailed setting and attention paid to ritual and the details of everyday life. I love how richly David evokes India with its sights, smells, flavors and fashions, as well as its cultural diversity and the cultural depth (and fragility) of the Bene Israel community. It was great to have the opportunity to learn about this lesser-known Jewish community, albeit through fiction. The characters are well-drawn and illustrate a variety of conflicts and situations. And it was a fun, undemanding read.

Overall though it's a little tricky to recommend. If you're very interested in Jewish fiction, or less-well-known Jewish communities, I might recommend it as a light read or a companion piece to a solid work of nonfiction, like Sadia Shepard's The Girl From Foreign, the recent memoir by a Muslim Indian-American who learns she has Jewish ancestry (and which I haven't yet read but has received lots of praise). Light-fiction readers might enjoy it for its easy tone, uncomplicated writing and charming setting. But if you know me, you know "uncomplicated" isn't necessarily my thing, and while I think it has some appeal for certain audiences, it wasn't really for me- literary fiction it's not. But it's an unusual book about a seldom-treated subject and if you're interested in India and/or Jewish subjects, it might be for you.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.