The Fragile Mistress
Trade Paperback/210 pages
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"…brilliantly captures essence of place, the economic conditions of
“The Fragile Mistress” is a dense poetic drama about 14-year-old Liana, who with her sister reluctantly accompany their mother from their American home to Jerusalem in 1963 for the reburial of her mother’s brother, who died during the 1948 “War of Independence”, in the new Jerusalem cemetery.
Their trip is cloaked in secrets. Liana is not to reveal to her mother’s family living in Israel of her father’s recent suicide. Meanwhile a mystery develops around her mother’s Jewish underground activities at the same time her brother died. Liana is also dismayed with her mother’s behavior since returning to Israel, in particular displays of hedonistic behavior with male comrades.
But before she carries out her runaway plan to Paris, while wandering in a forest she accidentally encounters an American, the missing son of a diplomat. Both subsequently witness a sniper killing of a young boy and after that, death became “part of a glittery quarry” of her inner thoughts that mirrored her new life with William, with whom she takes refuge in a monastery just over the Israeli border.
This book in part is about Liana’s sexual discovery and is written in sensual prose: William “was not quite real, my avatar from the end of ghosts.” In his eyes she saw “starry things: there were stray cats in his hands, he was saving them from themselves and the hot sun and the fact that they do not exist.”
Intertwined is a historical view of Israel and Palestine viewed through her mother’s past and William’s archeological discoveries that told of vacationing Sultans, British explorers, “and then the Israelis—the scrambling of boundaries and borders and rebellions.”
Author Leora Skolkin-Smith brilliantly captures essence of place, the economic conditions of the war and the displacement of people on both sides, in layers of vivid images. Although it is a short book, her prose is so compressed it requires a slow, careful read.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla