This is the story of Tonia Shulman, a young Jewish girl growing up on the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz,, in Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine.
The story starts in 1946, and we meet Tonia, her brother and sister Rina and Natan, and her parents Leah and Josef. Her father is one of the men who helped found the kibbutz, and his passion for establishing a Labour Zionist movement means that he is often absent from family life. While the rest of the family will follow their father fairly willingly, Tonia dreams of escape to America, where she can have her own house and freedom from persecution. When Tonia meets Amos Amrani, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Amos is a member of an underground Jewish movement, which her father detests.
We follow Tonia throughout her life and witness her making some important and difficult decisions, and never letting go of her ambition to move to America. But even if she fulfils her dream, will it really make her happy? She truly wants to be with Amos, but will their moment ever come?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Initially I wondered if it would be slightly hard going, but in fact I flew through it. I loved the character of Tonia, who was so determined and clever, and who loved her own family so much, but felt conflicted between what they wanted for her and what she wanted for herself. Yael Politis has created an entirely believable heroine, who I warmed to and grew to care for. I couldn’t always agree with some of the choices Tonia made, but in her position, who is to know what any of us would do? The rest of her family were all very well fleshed out; I particularly liked her mother and sister.
Amos was a complex character. He was intelligent and brave, and sometimes very arrogant, which almost made me dislike him at times. It was refreshing to see two people in a story who felt so much for each other, but yet realised that there were aspects of each other that they didn’t necessarily like. This is no ‘hearts and flowers’ love story, and it is all the better for it.
There is a section of the book which describes in vivid and painful detail the real life siege of the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz. The anguish and fear felt by the men left on the kibbutz to fight was so well depicted, and I found that part particularly moving.
The effects of the wars and turbulent time are felt by all, and the reader is privy not just to its effects on Tonia and Amos, but also their families.
The writing is very eloquent and the story flowed beautifully. The narrative is moving, with humour and pathos and is also very informative about a specific part of Jewish history.
I would highly recommend this book.