Tuesday, November 17, 2009

REVIEW: Valley of Strength, by Shulamit Lapid

Valley of Strength, by Shulamit Lapid. Published 2009 by the Toby Press. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Hebrew.

Valley of Strength is a very fine historical novel by Israeli writer Shulamit Lapid, about the settlement of pre-state Israel. Set at the end of the 19th century and focusing on a 16-year-old girl named Fania, it tracks the growth of a settlement at Gai Oni, later called Rosh Pinnah, and details the hardships and struggles of the settlers.

Fania is a survivor of pogroms in Ukraine, and comes to Palestine to live with her out-of-wedlock child, her brother and her husband, Yehiel, a slightly older widower and father who marries her out of charity. The two develop a real affection for each other as Fania grows in confidence and independence. Determined to make a better life for herself and her nascent family, she gets involved in business and diplomacy and immerses herself in the pioneer life, often struggling to make her voice heard as a woman in this harsh landscape:
Of all the things said, what seared her memory was not the argument with Eleazar, but words casually spoken by the doctor- "Nine Biluists in Gedera, and one woman." As if she isn't a person! Nine human beings and something else. A goat, a mule, a woman...This woman must be stronger than her comrades, since she needs greater powers of body and spirit than those of the men if she is to be capable of making a living with them in isolation.
I found Valley of Strength to be a beautifully written literary novel with a strong voice, appealing characters and a story I could invest in. It's moving and heartbreaking, devastating and hopeful. I loved Fania and Yehiel and rooted for their relationship to blossom and for their family to succeed. I loved Fania's courage and tenacity as she navigates a nearly impossible situation. And I enjoyed reading about life in pre-state Israel; scenes of recent immigrants digging up the rocks in the soil and praying for rain resonated for me with American frontier memoirs. A lovely, unforgettable book.

Rating: BUY

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

As a side note, anyone interested in translations of Israeli and other Jewish literature should keep an eye on The Toby Press and their series of these books. They are published in high quality hardcover editions with beautiful cover art and paper.


bermudaonion said...

I love immigrant stories and stories set in other cultures. This one sounds like it's extremely well written. Thanks for your review.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I also have been very impressed with the quality of books put out by Gefen Publishing. Maybe it's more of the norm in Israel?

Marie Cloutier said...

Jill, Toby isn't an Israeli publisher as far as I know. And I can't say I agree with you about Gefen but maybe you've read different books of theirs than I have! :-)

Blodeuedd said...

It does sound like a great story, and one that I sure would like to read one day. lovely review

Zibilee said...

I haven't read any books set in this area of the world, and I love well written immigrant stories and historical fiction so this book is definitely of interest to me. Great review!

A said...

Great review! I'm always looking for novels that take place in other times and cultures. Based on your review, this one is going on my reading to do list!