Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope

Jessamyn Hope

Fig Tree Books 2014
ISBN 978-1-941493-06-9

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“. . . offers up intriguing insights . . . “

Jessamyn Hope’s intriguing debut novel, “Safekeeping,”evolves around a medieval brooch once owned by a Jewish woman and now in Adam’s hands, an addict who has stolen this prized possession from his grandfather, and Holocaust refugee, Franz.

When Adam finds the grandfather dead from the shock of losing the brooch, he attempts to make amends by fulling his grandfather’s dream — to give the brooch to the only woman he loved. The journey begins in 1994 at an Israel kibbutz.

Hope aptly narrates a fictional tale around historical events so tragic and unbelievable, it prompts a craving for supplementary details. In the kibbutz we meet Claudette, a Duplessis Orphan from Quebec, victim of an alleged scheme by the government and the Roman Catholic Church which falsely certified orphans as insane in order to gain more generous federal subsidies. Among the vivid characters are Ulya, an outrageously ambitious thieving Russian immigrant, and also a Chernobyl victim who falsely claimed to be Jewish to get out of the Soviet Union. She having an affair with a Palestinian farmhand.

We also meet Ziva, a Zionist socialist, an early pioneer who established the kibbutz in 1944. Through flashbacks, we learn of Ziva’s relationship with Franz, and her determination for a Jewish state after the UN voted in 1947 to partition Palestine. The aging Ziva, preoccupied with her own battle to preserve the socialist ways of the communal settlement refuses to assist Adam in his search and denies she is the lost love.

In two separate backstories, one set during the Holy Roman Empire in 1347, we learn the beginnings of the brooch styled by a Jewish jeweler into a “pomegranate, an obvious nod to the Holy Land, from where Jews were expelled 1500 years ago,” and how it is preserved during the Rhineland massacre of Jews. The second story reveals how Franz came to own the brooch and his escape from a German prison.

As a first novel, it is an ambitious piece, with complicated twists and unique characters, none of whom are likable, all seeped in some form of tragedy which cannot be resolved in their lifetimes. But it offers up intriguing insights and also details some forgotten and unsavory facts about the founding of the Jewish homeland.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla