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.

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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.


Anonymous said...

I will see if my library has it, as this doesn't sound like a book I would buy.

I like complication and intensity in my books.

Space Station Mir said...

Have you read Burnt Bread and Chutney? It's a memoir of a Jewish American-Indian girl whose mother is Bene Israel.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like something I might enjoy at the right time, if you know what I mean.

Zibilee said...

I really enjoy fiction about India, so this sounds like it might be a good fit for my tastes. Although since it's not a taxing read, I would probably enjoy it between heavier fare.

bookmagic said...

It's too bad this wasn't a little heavier, sounds like it may have been more enjoyable. The topic sounds interesting

S. Krishna said...

This sounds great, as I'm interested in India. I'll definitely give it a try!