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Posts Tagged ‘anti-Semitism’

SINS OF THE MOTHER by August Norman: Book Review

Although she won’t admit it, Caitlin Bergman’s world is shaken when she gets a call from small-town sheriff Boswell Martin to identify a corpse.  She flies to Coquille, Oregon to view the body of the woman the sheriff believes is her mother, but Caitlin isn’t able to help him.  She hasn’t seen her mother, whom she derisively calls Mama Maya, in over thirty years.

As she has always explained to anyone who asks, both her parents are dead.  Caitlin’s mother had abandoned her and her father; except for sending Caitlin a book on her thirteenth birthday, the two have had no contact. 

During the autopsy, a key is discovered hidden in the woman’s body; it belongs to a safe deposit box in a local bank.  Caitlin is listed on the bank’s records, and that is how sheriff Martin located her.  Unable to prove the identity of the disfigured body, which has been rendered virtually unrecognizable by animals and by the killer who removed its fingerprints and teeth, officials cannot obtain a warrant to open the box.  But since Caitlin is named as the beneficiary, she has that power.

Still reluctant to become involved, Caitlin asks in whose name the account was opened, still hoping it hadn’t belonged to her mother and that it wasn’t her mother whose body was found.  However, when she hears “Sharon Sugar,” she’s convinced.  “That was her stage name,” she tells Martin.  When Maya abandoned the infant Caitlin, she became a star in the adult entertainment business, i.e., a porn star and stripper.

For a small city, there’s a lot going on both on the surface and beneath it in Coquille.  There’s overt anti-semitism; a splinter quasi-political group that wants to create a new state, the State of Jefferson, that would combine northern California and southern Oregon; and a religious cult, the Daughters of God, of which Maya was a member.

The anti-semitism shows up in the form of locals calling Caitlin a “Jew bitch”; the State of Jefferson is the brainchild of a group of white right-wingers; and the Daughters of God is a cult of women led by its charismatic leader Desmond.

The Daughters of God was founded years earlier in Los Angeles but has relocated to southern Oregon.  Its members make reference to God’s Hill, the Knowing, the Climb, the Morning Song, the Eternal Flame of Ceremony Peak, and other esoteric names, the meanings of which are known only to the women involved.

Inside the safe deposit box Caitlin finds a journal that her mother kept during her years in the cult.  Maya had became Magda, and Caitlin begins to understand her mother’s desire to gain forgiveness and understanding for the life she had led prior to joining the group and the almost hypnotic spell that the Daughters of God and Desmond had over her.

Sins of the Mother is a deep look into how cults work on those who are most vulnerable and their impact not only on its members but on those who remain on the outside, helpless to reach their loved ones and bring them back to their families.

August Norman has written a powerful, insightful mystery about love and redemption.  You can read more about him at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

RUN YOU DOWN by Julia Dahl: Book Review

One of the best things about reading books is that they take you to new and different places, giving you the opportunity to learn things that perhaps you’d never thought about before.  Some people believe that this is true only for non-fiction, but I don’t agree.  I’ve read many novels, including mysteries, that have transported me to communities and introduced me to cultures I’d never have encountered otherwise.

Julia Dahl’s Run You Down takes the reader to the sect of the Haredi, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews, in New York.  Rebekah Roberts, the heroine of Ms. Dahl’s debut novel Invisible City, is one of the book’s two narrators.  The other is her mother, Aviva Kagan, who was a teenager when she fled an Orthodox Jewish enclave in Brooklyn for the wider world more than twenty years earlier.  She became pregnant, left the infant Rebekah with the child’s father, and disappeared from her daughter’s and her boyfriend’s lives.

Rebekah, now a journalist, didn’t know until recently if her mother was alive.  Even now that she has been given the necessary contact information, Rebekah isn’t sure if she wants to be in touch.  What kind of mother would walk away from her child?  Though Rebekah was brought up in a happy home by her father and stepmother, she still has questions and feelings about her mother that she both does and doesn’t want answered.  Now the murder of a Haredi woman in Roseville, New York looks as if it might bring Rebekah and Aviva together after all these years.

Because of her coverage of the murder of another woman a few months earlier, Rebekah’s name is known to the Haredim.  She’s asked by her friend Saul Katz to meet with the husband of Pessie Goldin, a young mother who allegedly drowned in her bathtub.

Levi Goldin doesn’t believe that his wife died that way, but he’s been thwarted in his attempt to find the answers to his questions by Pessie’s parents and the police chief of Roseville.  Pessie’s parents are worried that their daughter may have committed suicide, a grave offense in their religion, as well as being concerned that the shame of any investigation would hurt their younger daughters’ chances of successful marriages.

They would rather believe, or at least have others believe, that her death was a tragic accident, that she fell while bathing and drowned.  But why is the police chief of the town so reluctant to investigate Pessie’s death?

The other narrator, Aviva Kagan, tells the story of her unhappiness with her religious upbringing and her escape from it.  But that escape didn’t turn out the way she thought it would, and her life has been a search for belonging, from Brooklyn to Florida, back to Brooklyn, then to Israel, and finally to the Jews in Roseville.  But she has never found the peace she’s searched for; even her reunion with her youngest brother, Sam, has brought trouble into her life.

Run You Down is a penetrating look into the closed society of the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox.  Its positive aspects, its sense of community and family closeness is balanced by its negative ones, its paralyzing fear of outsiders and its unwillingness to show any of its imperfections to the Christian world.  Both Rebekah and Aviva are fascinating protagonists, both with engrossing stories that have shaped their lives.

You can read more about Julia Dahl at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads on her web site.