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  • Written by Nomi Eve
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  • Written by Nomi Eve
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A Novel

Written by Nomi EveAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Nomi Eve

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: March 05, 2002
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-375-71399-6
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis

In the bestselling tradition of The Red Tent, The Family Orchard is a spellbinding novel of one unforgettable family, the orchard they've tended for generations, and a love story that transcends the ages.

Nomi Eve's lavishly imagined account begins in Palestine in 1837, with the tale of the irrepressible family matriach, Esther, who was lured by the smell of baking bread into an affair with the local baker. Esther passes on her passionate nature to her son, Eliezer, whose love for the forbidden Golda threatened to tear the family apart. And to her granddaughter, Avra the thief, a tiny wisp of a girl who thumbed her nose at her elders by swiping precious stones from the local bazaar-and grew to marry a man she met at the scene of a crime. At once epic and intimate, The Family Orchard is a rich historical tapestry of passion and tradition from a storyteller of beguiling power.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt

My father writes:
Rabbi Yochanan Schine, a student of the famous Chatam Sofer, was engaged to Esther Sophie Goldner Herschell, the granddaughter of the chief rabbi of the British Empire. Esther and Yochanan were my great-great-grandparents. They immigrated to Palestine and married in 1837 in Jerusalem.

I write:

Esther was pious but in a peripheral way. She knew the mitzvot, she knew to make the Sabbath holy, but she felt that there was no real harm in putting her own creative interpretation on the old rules because certainly creativity was an essential and blessed quality of Man and it would be a sin not to use it.
At first she did not like Jerusalem; she was from a long line of people who lacked sense of direction. The stony city, with all of its obscurant walls, twists and turns seemed to her a nasty place without any recognizable plan.
Three months and two days after the young couple arrived, she ventured out alone for the first time. Quickly lost, but not frightened, Esther decided she would just wander. She knew that if she wanted to she could ask someone to show her the way back to their house, which was a half-grand, half-decrepit habitation on Rav Pinchas Street. It was located across from the Peace of Israel Synagogue in the center of town.
And then Esther smelled the bread. She turned a corner, walked a few more steps. Soon she was standing outside an arched open door watching a bare-armed baker slide a tray of dough into a furnace. Esther stood and stared. The steam and sweat and dough and bare baker skin created in the room an atmosphere magnetic, carnally alluring. The baker was a young man, no more than twenty. Esther, married less than four months, was nineteen.

Although she was not ordinarily a believer in astrology, and had absolutely no idea how sailors used the night sky to tell them where to go, she felt certain that crucial stars had descended into that tiny bakery room to make for her a perfect navigational tool. In short, she was inspired, and knew for once in her life exactly in which direction she was supposed to go.

The baker stood before her--a destination slim and brown. He was lithe and beautiful in a coltish, boyish way. Small. Only a bit taller than she. Esther immediately took in his huge almondy eyes, and his hair--thick dark brown hair--gathered in a low braid at the back. He seemed to her like something carved out of precious wood; miniature, masculine, and muscular all at once.

The bakery was only two rooms. One with a low, wooden baking table rutted and eternally floury from years of use, and the other with a brick furnace that had been hewn, by the baker's grandfather, out of the limestone wall. It was behind what would later be the public pavilion but was then a rubbly clump of lower-class homes bordering the more prosperous center of town. When the baker saw the young woman with the full skirt, cinched at the waist, when he saw the big brown eyes of the woman, when he saw her white skin, full lips, and attractive face, he invited her in. He gave her a fresh roll and asked her, in nervous, clumsy Yiddish (which, like a mule, kicked and brayed itself off of his tongue; he was embarrassed at his language's lack of manners) if she would like some sweet mint tea. This was the start of her nine-year love affair with the baker and her lifelong passionate entanglement with Jerusalem, the city whose twists, turns, bakers, and twin arcane whispers of piety and perversity ultimately spoke straight to her heart.

Esther would make love with her husband at night "through her front door" and then, in the daytime, she carried out an affair with the baker, a third-generation Palestinian Jew. Their sexual game was ruled by the fact that the baker would only enter into her "rear door." Both euphemism (which in the entire nine years they never breached) and position (which in the entire nine years they never varied except slightly in angle) suited them. Titillating not only the tenderest parts of their anatomies, but also the deeply humorous sense of sex that they found they shared.

She came once a week, on Tuesdays, in the late afternoon when her husband would be busy participating in his civic meetings and the rest of the town, in classic Mediterranean style, would be indoors either scheming, studying, or sleeping. The baker, whose hands Esther always thought were strangely thin-fingered and uncallused for a baker, would lock the door to the back of the shop. And as he walked over to her, she would be laying a clean cloth down on the baking table. She loved lifting a finger to his lips, putting her fingers in his mouth and then tracing the graceful outline of his face, from mouth to nose, eyes and into ears.
Always, when they were both ready, she would turn away from him and lean her body over the table. He pulled up her skirts, pulled down her undergarments and his own pants. Then he licked the fingers on his right hand and slowly, passionately, opened her up. Soon he slid right into her. She loved the feel of his body angling its way upward. She loved the feel of her heavy breasts hard pressing into the wooden table. He gripped her hips and thrust himself deep.

They kissed and panted and hungered at and for each other's skin--more, not less, fervently as the years went by. Theirs, they agreed, was an ancient elemental passion that must have existed, like sand, earth, and sky, long before either of them had been born. And despite the intense physicality of their togethering, both Esther and the baker always felt insubstantial, flimsy, oh so light in the presence of this passion. But this was not a bad feeling. When they made love, it was as if they were wrapping their bodies not only around each other but also, and more essentially, around something else that had before been naked. It was, they agreed, as if the passion were the real creature, and they, though temporarily deprived of the normal trappings of personhood, were lucky to have been chosen as its favorite clothes. They dressed the passion in carnal finery, and the passion wore them with secret frequency.

My great-great-great-grandmother, Esther Sophie Goldner Schine, granddaughter of the chief rabbi of the British Empire, thought her husband's coming in through her front door and her lover's coming in through her back door was the perfect arrangement for a Jewish woman. The notion of separate facilities fit nicely into the ready framework of kashrut. Milk here, meat there, and as long as there was proper distance between things, everything stayed quietly kosher.

My father writes:

Yochanan came from a part of East Prussia called Sheinlanka, which means "pretty terraces." Today it is part of Poland, not far from the town of Posnan. He came to Palestine under the following circumstances:
In 1836, the chief rabbi of the British Empire, Rabbi Shlomo Berliner Herschell, sent out a messenger to search for a shidach for his granddaughter, Esther. A shidach is the Yiddish word for a marriage match. The marriage was to be bound by the condition that the young couple marry and reside in Jerusalem. This was before the existence of Zionism. Most Jews still believed that Israel should not and could not be established until the Messiah came to Zion. Rabbi Herschell disagreed with prevailing thought. He was among a group of radical European Orthodox Jews who believed that moving to Palestine was not in opposition to the messianic ideal.
The messenger traveled for almost an entire year. Finally, he arrived at the city of Pressburg, at the house of study of the famous Prussian rabbi, the Chatam Sofer. Yochanan had long been a student there. Like the chief rabbi, the Chatam Sofer also disagreed with prevailing thought--that is, he believed in Israel as a realistic homeland, not just a spiritual one. In response to the rabbi's messenger, the Chatam Sofer promptly sent his prized student, Yochanan. Yochanan and Esther met in London and became engaged almost immediately.

I write:

On the third Tuesday of Chesh-van, four months after they arrived in Jeru-salem, Yochanan finished early with his civic meeting and decided to make for home. He was just about to walk past the Glory of Israel Synagogue when he saw Esther step out of the front door of their house and turn to walk the other way. It was late fall, and chilly. She was wearing her long maroon coat and the wide-brimmed black hat that tipped down over her right eye and made her vision, she always explained, "a bit drunk feeling, you know, only half there and wobbly, but not too bad, I find my way after all." Yochanan loved his wife's way of speaking. Her sentences were curvy and full of original character.

Yochanan called out to Esther but he was too far for her to hear and so he walked on and meant to call again, but then he found himself walking quietly, stealthily after his wife around a corner, and again, another corner, and then down the street and into an alley. He stopped at the mouth of the alley and watched his wife walk through the bakery's back door. Her maroon coat wafted behind her for several seconds and then too, disappeared into the warm realm of dough and yeast.

Pulling back and into a doorway on which was graffitied the word sky in sloppy Aramaic, he looked up at the real sky, which was darkening with the foredream of a storm. He watched as the baker poked his head out and then shut the front door of his shop. Hidden, but only ten feet away, Yochanan didn't say a word. Then he walked to the closed bakery door and put his ear to the old wood of it. Soon he could hear his wife groaning. He stepped away from the door and looked up and down the street. No one was in the alley, nor walking toward it. He walked back and listened some more.

He became aroused almost immediately, and soon was picturing the baker holding Esther's naked breasts, petting them gently and then lifting up the nipples to his mouth. First one and then the other. And the baker's hand, Yochanan imagined the baker's left hand reaching in between Esther's legs, which she pressed together tightly. Soon, in his mind, they were pressing their naked bodies together and moving, back and forth, toward and away, with the tempestuous ease of a storm just brewing. The storm outside began to blow. Yochanan huddled into his coat, raised his collar, and ducked deeper into the doorway. Shutting his eyes, he leaned into the images as if they were the real door, open and welcoming, while the wooden one, closed and cold against his body, kept him out of all this. Now he heard the baker groaning. Esther let out a small passionate yelp. And as the two lovers inside reached satiety, the one outside reached down and touched himself, pressed there, pressed and pulled himself to solitary, intense pleasure. Only then did he leave.

Yochanan put his hands over his hat and ran through the rain. His feet swish-swished into puddles already forming in the narrow, stony streets. As he ran, he heard himself reciting an angry litany like an opposite prayer.
The baker has a face of moldy clay.
The baker has hands of heavy stinking wood.
The baker is a deformed gentile in disguise.
The baker is an eater of clams.
A descendant of Amalek.
The devil of devils.
The baker is . . . the baker is . . . the baker is shtupping my wife!


The rain hit him harder now, pelting from every angle and also straight up from the ground. He felt slowed by it, slowed and assaulted, as if each raindrop were a separate obstacle. Reaching home, he went inside, took off his great coat and hat, and set them upon the fine wooden rack that they had brought with them from London. Shaking out his beard and hair, he ran his fingers through them. Then he held his hands up to his mouth and breathed into his open palms. The warm air hovered there, but only for a second, and soon his skin was cold again. He breathed again, felt warm for several seconds and then cold again, warm and then cold. Cold. He dropped his hands down to his sides, thrust them into his pockets, and sighed deeply. But then everything changed. His mood rocked and swayed, and Yochanan felt a smile flutter to his lips.

Laughing out loud, he turned and looked at his image in the gilt hall mirror. My, how shaggy! Wet! How disheveled! But happy! Happy! He found himself possessed of an excited and yet cautious confusion.
He had taken great pleasure outside the baker's door and yet there were so many sins and so much shame growing on the fields where this kind of pleasure bloomed. Where was his anger? He could not feel it now. Where was his litany, his sour prayer? Yochanan loved his wife and trusted her too. Strangely, he still trusted her. The image of Esther in the baker's arms was an excruciatingly beautiful flower. Vicarious, criminal, devastating, and yet thrillful. He ached with every petal, leaf, and fresh-cut stem of it.

Once again, he imagined the baker's dark hands thrusting upward into Esther's body, her mouth half open, lips wet. Yochanan imagined and imagined, and grew once again aroused while standing alone in the antechamber still dripping from the rain. But he didn't touch himself this time. He was in his own house and the walls were lined with holy books. Yochanan could not bring such odd illicit flowers home with him. Rubbing his hands together, he put them once more through his beard. As if he could comb out the confusion. A servant walked into the antechamber.

"Oh, sir, I didn't hear you . . . come in, sit by the fire, take off your wet clothes and eat some fresh rolls just come from the baker. Esther, the lady, your wife, she has just brought them in through the kitchen courtyard door."

My father writes:
In 1837 there was a horrible earthquake in the northern city of Sefat, home to devotees of the mystical branch of Judaism called Kabbalah. More than five thousand people were killed and those that escaped left the city and wandered throughout Palestine. Many half-mad old kabbalists made their way to Jerusalem. The streets were full of their ragged and deranged numbers. Yochanan and Esther, working with the British Consul, set up a charitable foundation to aid their cause. Amongst other projects, they raised money for an orphanage. Once the money was raised, Esther became its de facto director.

I write:

While her husband had come in wet, Esther had arrived home soaking. She had gotten caught in the brunt of the squall. And although both her color and her spirits were still lifted from her doughy tryst, everything else about her dragged. Her hair had come loose under her hat and lay in sopping tendrils all about her face. And her long maroon cloak, drenched at the bottom, hung heavily around her feet.

In the kitchen she threw off her floppy hat and stepped out of the cloak, gratefully peeling its wetness off of her body. The only dry thing about her were the rolls, which were curled into a cloth that she had stuffed under her cloak and which she had held tight into her chest as she made her way home. Suddenly laughing, she thrust the rolls away from her body and into the hands of the servant who laughed along with her for no reason at all. They continued laughing, Esther and the servant girl, as Esther unconsciously ran her hands up and down her bodice. Her nipples were cold and hard. And they stung a bit too. Esther dropped her hands and walked upstairs to change into dry clothes for dinner.

When she saw Yochanan standing in the front vestibule she stopped, gave him a smile. His look was neither vacant of affection nor full of any familiar warmth. She didn't know how to respond. Again, she tried to smile. And this time was successful. But the smile brought another shiver. As if there were a bit of cold contained in the subtle upturn of her own lips, which, with her smile, spilled out of her whole body. She hugged her arms about her. And she needed to speak. It was odd to stand there not speaking.

"One of the Sefat men begged to be--let into our house, out of . . . ," she began.

". . . And so you let him, it's raining, of course you let him."

"I led him to our door but at the last second he . . ."

"Ran away. Yes, they always run away."

"My husband. You look tired."

"My wife. You are very wet. Go dry yourself. And then we will eat. I smell the bread. It smells good."
Esther walked toward her husband and continued to speak. "But just as I opened the door, the man ran from me." She stopped in front of her husband and held out her hand to touch his. Yochanan felt how cold she was. Esther spoke again.

"The baker put in an extra roll. He is a good baker."

"My wife. Esther. You are very wet. Go upstairs, dry your--"

"My husband, I am going."

Yochanan watched after her as she climbed the stairs and rounded the landing. And as Esther disappeared from his view he felt that he could hear his own heart and smell his own blood and even feel his skin encasing his face and fingers, his legs and feet, his toes too. He felt taut and uncomfortable inside of himself. As if he were more a creaky machine than man, more a sum of mismatched parts than any sort of ethereal spirit. Whereas usually he felt the opposite. So comfortable with the feel of his own soul. And so familiar with it.

But now was not a time for soul. Actually, he couldn't feel his soul at all. Only his bones, and his body and all the blood running through it. Looking up the stairs again, he saw only emptiness. Then the green spot at the top of the hall snared his eyes; it was the picture, a landscape that his father had sent them, a present from Sheinlanka. Sent with the messenger whose eyes rolled this way and that, and in whom Esther had recognized a distant cousin's husband's younger brother or at least the form of someone remote and inconsequential whom she had once known.

"Well, maybe not you," she had said when the messenger protested, "but definitely someone like you or, at least, like your face." Then all three, Yochanan, Esther, and the messenger had laughed at her rather silly if not poetic persistence.

"At least, like your face." Now Yochanan mouthed his wife's words to himself, "At least, like your face." The words didn't mean anything, but he felt an odd and pressing need to repeat them. As if this one fragment of nonsense could save him. Yochanan knew that he would not mention what he had seen to his wife but that she knew that he knew and that this was to be their secret. And he also knew that the secret would become over time a mistress to both of them, a silence that they would share and take into their bed and ultimately believe in. For what is a secret, he mused painfully, but a kind of religion that leads the silent to constantly pray.

My father writes:

Yochanan's father, the chief assistant of the Chatam Sofer, was the blind rabbi Mordechai Schine. A legend has been passed down that his students never knew he was blind. According to the legend, Rabbi Mordechai Schine tricked his students into thinking that he could see by listening for the turning of pages as they studied the Talmud and following the text in his head. He must have known the entire Talmud by heart.

I write:

Esther changed quickly out of her wet clothes and came down for dinner. They ate in relative silence, whereas usually both chatted comfortably about their days. Then right after they had finished eating, the couple went up to their room and got into bed. It was much earlier than usual, but neither knew what else to do.
Esther was pious in her own way. She knew how to keep the Sabbath holy but in private she often broke the rules. Yochanan was pious but in a serious way. He knew the mitzvot and he always kept the Sabbath holy. To him, creativity could come only as a consequence of prayer and piety, not as a shaper of it. Esther and Yochanan lay in their beds, side by side, barely any space between them. As it was not her time of the month, the beds were pushed together. On the days when she was bleeding they would be pulled far apart. Esther fidgeted and couldn't lie still. She sat halfway up and flipped her pillow over, fluffed it up and then lay down again, resting her face in the cool linen. She watched Yochanan's back. He was turned away from her, facing the window that looked out over the Mary Church. As he gazed at the church, his thoughts traveled in the opposite direction to the garden the Christians call Gethsemane after the olive trees that grow there crooked and squat.

Esther sat up again and turned the pillow another time. But the linen on the underside wasn't cool yet and this made her fidget some more. She did not know what or how or how much he knew, but she knew that

Yochanan knew something. And Esther wondered how this something fit into his prayers. He was a most prayerful man, her husband, from a long line of rabbis reaching all the way back to Rashi, the great eleventh-century commentator.

Shutting her eyes, Esther tried to sleep but she could not. She kept seeing images and having odd thoughts and memories. She felt filled with them. Her whole body dreaming, remembering, thinking. One image would not leave her alone. It was of Yochanan's father. She could not stop visualizing and thinking of Yochanan's father, a man whom she had never met but whose story fascinated her. Esther had a picture in her head of an old man sitting at a table in the House of Study. He was surrounded by many students and many books.

The image dissipated, leaving her alone with Yochanan in the almost-dark. Esther closed her eyes and listened to her husband breathing. Heavy and deep were his inhalations, and every couple of breaths a restless comma of a cough inserted itself into his repose. Sighing, Esther feared that he had caught cold in the rain. She rubbed her eyes and took a finger up to her right nipple, which was still tender. The baker had taken her nipples into his mouth and sucked them until she felt like screaming in pleasure but she hadn't screamed; instead she turned the yell inward as she had taught herself to do, inviting it into an inner cavern where voices were always echoing and the trick was never to try to contain them but just to let them joyously be. She moved her hand away from her breast and traveled it down in between her legs, but only for a second. Not for pleasure, but for the feeling of comfort and warmth. And then she curled over on her side and shut her eyes.

She pretended that every time Yochanan inhaled was the turning of a page and every time he exhaled was the ending of a chapter. In this way, she read the Talmud of their togetherness. It was a big book. A book that contained all that had already passed between them as well as all that would ever pass between them. Past and present and future all were written there. She read for a long time, so many shared stories, some intimate, some silly, others dark and uncomfortable, some so beloved that she almost cried from them.

The night passed heavily. No, thought Esther, Jerusalem is not a place for regular sleep. Only for a kind of restless burrowing inward that leaves a soul dreamily awake all day long. Yochanan slept deeply; his breath was a parchment of air that she read from for a long time. And then, as the sky lightened, Esther moved toward her husband and roused him gently. Yochanan wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled his lips into her forehead. She pressed her body into his, and together they slept, adding another page there.
Author Q&A

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Nomi Eve, author of THE FAMILY ORCHARD

Q: Where did the idea come from to write The Family Orchard?

A: I can honestly say that I never actually "planned" to write this particular book. I simply needed to write certain family stories, and I didn't know how to write them. The way this book presented itself to me was as an answer to the questions in my heart and hands.
When I was fourteen, my father, Dr. Yehoshua Buch, began to lay out his family tree on the dining room table. The first family tree was written on big sheets of thin grey paper, but the paper wasn't big enough, so the edges were taped to other pieces. The trees were huge. I remember first looking at them and thinking that my father was crazy. After all, what fourteen-year-old cares about nine-hundred years and forty generations? There were many many rabbis in the trees. Sometimes my father would come home with pictures of the grandfather rabbis that he had found in the pages of the Encyclopedia Judaica. Invariably they had long white beards and pinched-in-faces. I had a hard time mustering much interest.
But then things changed. When I was twenty-four, I was trying to write a story about my family. By this time, my father's family tree had grown into a collection of detailed journals that he had written about each branch. He had meticulously connected our family to the eleventh century Torah commentator, Rashi, who in turn was a descendant of Rabbi Hillel (100 B.C.E) who was a descendant of the House of David. One day, when I was struggling to write my story, I opened up one of my father's journals and started to copy out of it. My father writes... I write....
The words began to flow.
My book, which chronicles only six generations, is the tip of this family iceberg. I thank my father for giving me the priceless gift of his passionate research. This novel is a duet which I would never have been able to accomplish without him. And when anyone asks, I always say, "the truth lies somewhere in between our voices."

Q: From your father's writing, what was the most remarkable thing that you discovered about your own family's history?
A:
Simply the fact that the history exists at all. We can trace my mothers' family back only one or two generations. But my father can tell you what our relatives were up to in the fifteenth century. This astonishes me. There is no one fact or story that sticks out from the rest. Most of the people my father writes about are fascinating. My problem has never been a lack of what to write--rather, the hard work for me is in deciding what to leave out. There are just so many stories to tell.

Q: Have you any desire to write about your real family tree, in a true, non-fiction sense?
A:
No, I really don't. The universe of fiction, rich with metaphor and moldable in my own hands, is the world which my imagination naturally inhabits. I am not at all a non-fiction writer. The few time I have tried my hand at journalism, and other non-fiction writing, I haven't enjoyed myself at all. And on a more philosophical note, I think that there are special receptors in our souls that allow "fictional" stories to penetrate where "factual" ones won't. The symbolic and poetic earths and skies of fiction match up with the symbolic and poetic earths and skies of our selves. I write from and towards these destinations. My words only really work if I do so.

Q: There is great historical reference in this book. What kind of research did you do to write this novel?
A:
Once again, I must thank my father. Ninety percent of the historical information in this novel comes directly from him. Although my father is a professor of finance, he is also an incredible historian. He knows more about things that happened one thousand years ago in Europe than I do about what happened yesterday in Cambridge, where I live. But it isn't just that he knows so much, he is also incredibly enthusiastic and excited about history, and is able to always communicate that enthusiasm, so that when you are listening to him you also get excited about rabbinic intrigues in sixteenth century France. For the past seven years, not only have I relied upon my father's notebooks for historical reference, but I have constantly called him with detailed historical questions. If he didn't know the answer off the top of his head (which he usually did), he always found the information and got right back to me with it.
As for the other ten percent of my information, I simply consulted a good number of history books. My favorite two were The NILI Spies by Anita Engle, and A View from Jerusalem, 1849-1858, edited by Arnold Blumberg. The former tells the life story of Sarah Aaronson, who was one of the leaders of a spy ring that operated in Palestine in the early part of the twentieth century, and the later is the consular diary of James and Elizabeth Finn. Both books tell great stories, and provided me with a real feel for the periods in which the characters in my own book lived.
In addition to actual book research, a lot of the work I needed to do was experiential. I needed to spend a lot of time just walking around my grandfather's orchard. I needed to go to the ruins of the crusader castle outside of Petach Tikvah where my great uncle was killed in 1948. I needed to find the site in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem where Esther and Yochanan's house once stood. I needed to go with my father to the "new house" in the New City, and stand inside of it with him. I needed to sit in my grandmother's kitchen and listen to her tell her stories about practicing throwing grenades when she was a young mother, and her babies were her camouflage. I needed to do these things; often it felt as if I were writing this book with my own body; the words sunk deep into my skin.

Q: Who are some of your favorite characters in your novel?
A:
Now that's a hard question. I think that I will always have a special place in my heart for Esther, because she came to me first. But I really love all of them. I can't write a character unless I love that character deeply. I love old Eliezer Shine running with his floppy-pocketed pants on the walls of the Old City; I love Avra the thief, especially at the moment when she puts the bullets into her own body and wonders about the fate of her twins, "shading the bullets with their yet-unlived lives"; I love Miriam and her sister Noona as they walk through the streets of Kovna, "two girls controlling the gusts of local weather." I love the Chacham Tzvi, as he ruminates about life, death, metaphors, and mourning. I love Esther's baker; I love David and Leah Lily. Really, I love them all. When I think of my characters, I feel them actually doing all the things that they do. I picture Esther mischievously wandering through Jerusalem, I picture the Chacham Tzvi writing, Miriam throwing mock grenades, Moshe grafting, young Eliezer drawing the shape of the golem on the ground. Really, I love them all.

Q: There are beautiful sketches and photos throughout the book. Where did they come from and how did you discover them?
A:
Most of the artwork in the book comes from nineteenth century travelogues written by Christian missionaries to the Holy Land. I have long been enamored by the images in these old books, and by the books themselves. Many antiquarian books stores in Israel and in the States have them, and I have been a rather voracious collector over the years. The artwork is exquisite, and when I see an image of Jerusalem, or of Jaffa, or of the Dead Sea, I am instantly transported. The Israel of today is certainly very different from the Israel depicted in these prints, but every now and then, if you turn your head just so, you can still catch a glimpse of the landscape that those artists so lovingly captured.
From the time I started to write this book, I knew that images had to be a part of it. This is for two reasons. First, my experience of Israel is so intensely visual--and I wanted to share this with my readers. Second, I feel as if my own work is in some way in dialogue with the work of those early travelers. I have never lived in Israel, but I have traveled there consistently, my whole life. The ministers who wrote the travelogues and had them so beautifully illustrated were on pilgrimages. And when they returned to England or to the United States they came with their hands full, saying to all who would turn their pages, "look what I found over there." I feel as if my own extended visits to Israel are kinds of pilgrimages too. I travel towards my family's sacred center, as well as towards and through a landscape that nourishes my spirit. And when I return, my hands are also full, and I spend my days trying my best to describe what I found there.

Q: You spent your childhood summers in Israel. What was that experience like?
A:
Those summers were, and still continue to be a tremendous gift in my life. I am who I am because of those trips. Those summers gave me the gift of Hebrew, a language I love to speak more than English, even though my Hebrew is broken. Those summers gave me the gift of my Israeli family, which is so wide and warm. Those summers gave me the gift of the orchard, the gift of Jerusalem, the gift of my grandmother, the gift of her stories. It's endless, really. As a writer, I am grateful that I was given the gift of knowing and being a part of a many-storied place. I read voraciously during those growing-up summers, but most of all I think that I was preparing to read my life. Everywhere you looked in my grandparents' village there was another story, another metaphor lurking in our midst.

Q: What is next on the horizon for you?
A:
I will write more books, but not right away. I believe deeply in taking big breaks. When I finished this book, after seven years of work, I thought to myself, "Okay, I actually have nothing else to say right now." I will write again when I have something new to say. I won't write just to write. When I do start writing again, I will probably write more family stories, more stories about people in love, more stories about people profoundly affected by history, more stories about people who think a lot about God.

Praise

Praise

"Absolutely wonderful in just about every single way... Immediately seductive."
--Newsday

"Enchanting, highly readable... The Family Orchard captures two centuries of Israel's modern history through the dreams, the sacrifices, the bravery of one remarkable Jewish family. It's a marvelous debut."
--San Francisco Chronicle

"Ambitious... A meaty, old-fashioned multi-generational family saga."
--The Washington Post Book World

"[The Family Orchard is] told in the bold colors of an Isaac Bashevis Singer fable... [Eve] is a storyteller of uncommon energy and poise."
--The New York Times

"Wonderfully accomplished... in a league with other multigenerational epics like One Hundred Years of Solitude."
--Talk

"Ripe with vivid images... An earthy, unorthodox view of family history, one imbued with love and warmth and humor."
--Detroit Free Press

"Blends traditional Jewish storytelling with the ingredients of postmodernism: magical realism, multiple authorial voices, a playful conflation of fiction ad nonfiction, even woodcut illustrations and eclectic design."
--The Boston Globe
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of The Family Orchard, Nomi Eve's impressive debut novel, a multi-generational family history that has been hailed as "grandly imagined and beautifully executed"[Backlist].

About the Guide

Spanning nearly two hundred years in the life of a passionate, eccentric, and altogether extraordinary family, The Family Orchard begins in 1837 when the beautiful and sensuous Esther Herschell, granddaughter of the chief rabbi of the British Empire, marries the Eastern European rabbi Yochanan Schine, and the couple moves to Jerusalem. Thus begins a lineage that will bring forth soldiers and thieves, heroes and lovers, a brother who feels the wound when his twin is shot, a seamstress capable of casting spells through the stories she weaves into dresses, a boy who tries to raise a spirit from the earth, the orchard men who lovingly tend the family's groves of fruit trees, and finally the narrator herself, who weaves her own magic from the legends and stories passed on ? and sometimes invented ? about her remarkable family. Through two world wars, the Holocaust, and the Israeli War of Independence, the novel joins family history to the terrible struggles of the Jewish people in the twentieth century. And when the narrator's great-grandparents, Miriam and Zohar, accidentally dig up stones of a mosaic beneath their orchard, they realize that their land is quite palpably linked to the ancient history of Palestine. But what emerges most powerfully in the novel are the deep and abiding connections ? physical, emotional, mystical ? between family members within and across the generations. As their distant ancestor rabbi Chacham Tzvi said, "There is an inner family that corresponds to your outer family." It is the hidden depths of this rich and strange inner life that Nomi Eve brings to the surface so beautifully in The Family Orchard.

Drawing on the traditions of Jewish folktales and magical realism, but marked by Nomi Eve's distinctive voice, The Family Orchard offers a fresh exploration of all those forces, visible and invisible, that hold a family together.

About the Author

Nomi Eve was born in Philadelphia and spent summers in Israel, living with her grandparents in their village. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband and son. Her husband, Aleister Jeremy Saunders, is an Alzheimer's researcher, and her son, Lev, is a full-time baby. The Family Orchard is her first novel; it took her seven years to write.

Discussion Guides

1. The Family Orchard is preceded by a brief passage explaining the origins of the words legend, fiction, and history, and a concern for etymology appears throughout the novel. Why does Nomi Eve focus on these particular three words at the beginning of her story? In what ways does this interest in word origins relate to the novel's investigation of family origins? How can knowing the source of something increase our understanding of it?

2. The Family Orchard is filled with extraordinary people, particularly the female characters. What qualities make the women in the novel so memorable? In what unique ways do Esther, Miriam, Avra, the narrator, and others express their creativity, their sensuality, and their spiritual selves?

3. A belief in ghosts, golems, magical presences, shadow realities, and other mystical forces runs throughout The Family Orchard. When Esther and Yochanan make love, they feel "as if the passion were the real creature, and they, though temporarily deprived of the normal trappings of personhood, were lucky to have been chosen as its favorite clothes" [p. 12]. What is Eve suggesting about the relationship between physical and spiritual realities in The Family Orchard?

4. Why does The Family Orchard intersperse the brief stories told by the narrator's father with the main narrative? How do these parallel narratives relate to each other?

5. Nomi Eve frequently uses metaphor in The Family Orchard. Of Shimon's perception of Jerusalem she writes: "From the little he knew of it, the Old City of Jerusalem seemed whirlpoolish and scary. More like the entrails of some petrified prehistoric creature than a proper place to live" [pp. 61-62]. Later, she writes, "He felt his anger coming toward him from across the darkened room, like the hand of an outstretched stranger" [p. 65]. Where else does this kind of writing appear in the novel? How does it help the reader both to visualize, and to understand at a deeper level, what is being described?

6. The Family Orchard is, among other things, a passionate love story about the narrator's ancestors and her own rekindled love with Jeremy. What do these love stories have in common? How is love expressed between men and women, between parents, grandparents, and children, and between brothers throughout the novel? What scenes seem most filled with affection in The Family Orchard?

7. Shimon tells his sons, "When we graft we create something unnatural. But the unnatural thing becomes in its mature expression something that seems to have been given nature's approval. People are supposed to graft. As if it were asked of us. Part of our partnership in creation" [p. 121]. How does the act of grafting fruit symbolize romantic relationships, the growth of family trees, and human creativity generally?

8. The Family Orchard is about the history of a family but also of a people and a place. How does the violence inflicted upon Jews by both the British and the Arabs affect the narrator's family? How does the Jewish heritage, especially the long line of rabbis, shape the character of the narrator's family tree?

9. How do Miriam and Zohar respond to the birth of their deformed son Gabi? In what ways does Gabi continue to affect the family even after he has been sent away?

10. At the precise moment when Moshe is shot and killed during the Israeli War of Independence, his twin brother Zohar, though he is many miles away working in the orchard, feels a piercing pain in his left shoulder. What does this occurrence suggest about the physical and spiritual ties that bind loved ones together? Where else does this kind of connection appear in the novel?

11. What kind of man is the narrator's great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, the seventeenth century rabbi Chacham Tzvi HaAshenazi? In what ways do his beliefs and behaviors reappear in later family members -- Eliezer, the narrator, and other characters in the novel?

12. The narrator's father writes that his mother told stories to get them through the hard times, and later the narrator tells Jeremy that she will "graft our story onto the stories that came before" [p. 295]. What roles do stories and storytelling play in The Family Orchard? What other characters tell stories? How is story related to history in the novel?

13. Miriam and Zohar discover the stones of an ancient mosaic beneath their orchard. "It became clear to them that underneath all of their groves, and yes, underneath the groves of their neighbors, and underneath the groves of their neighbors' neighbors was a secret city, a mapless ancient metropolis" [p. 198]. Later the narrator digs for those stones and has her "first experience with buried treasure" [p. 200]. In what other ways does the novel explore buried realities, secrets that lie beneath the surface, or the way the past is hidden in the present?

14. What does the novel as a whole say about the value of family and family history? Why is knowing her family's history and connecting herself to it so important for the narrator? To what extent has she imagined or invented this history? Does this creative approach to the "facts" of family history diminish or enhance its value?

15. What makes The Family Orchard different from other multigenerational novels? What qualities in Nomi Eve's writing bring fresh energy to this genre?


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