Author: Nomi Eve
Publication Date: August 12, 2014
Number of Pages: 320
How I Got It: NetGalley
An evocative and stirring novel about a young woman living in the fascinating and rarely portrayed community of Yemenite Jews of the mid-twentieth century, from the acclaimed author of The Family Orchard.
In the tradition of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Henna House is the enthralling story of a woman, her family, their community, and the rituals that bind them.
Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.
Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.
Henna House is a rich, spirited, and sensuous tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, and the dyes that adorn the skin and pierce the heart.
This is in the running to be my favorite historical fiction read of 2014 and will definitely be on my favorite historical fiction reads of all time list. Described as similar to Diamante's The Red Tent, I found it to remind me much more of Hoffman's The Dovekeepers. Desert villages, a little girl who wants to read and not be married off to an old man, the microcosm of families, and Adela's knowledge of her expanding world were all a rich story unto themselves, but the final third of the book is an even larger story. Readers will follow Adela from a young girl hopeful to not be rounded up as an orphan to a woman far from her birthplace and loved ones. The henna artwork pulls so many of the individual stories together. I learned so much about a time and culture that I knew nothing about before reading this book.
I definitely recommend this book to any readers interested in expanding their knowledge of Yemenite Jews from a female perspective.
** I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review **