Some Spotlight on The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem

Friday, 4 March 2016
Let's shine some spotlight on a beautiful book today.

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, by Sarit Yishai-Levi
Publication: April 5, 2016, by Thomas Dunne
Genre: Adult Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384

The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem is a dazzling novel of mothers and daughters, stories told and untold, and the binds that tie four generations of women.
Gabriela's mother Luna is the most beautiful woman in all of Jerusalem, though her famed beauty and charm seem to be reserved for everyone but her daughter. Ever since Gabriela can remember, she and Luna have struggled to connect. But when tragedy strikes, Gabriela senses there's more to her mother than painted nails and lips.
Desperate to understand their relationship, Gabriela pieces together the stories of her family's previous generations—from Great-Grandmother Mercada the renowned healer, to Grandma Rosa who cleaned houses for the English, to Luna who had the nicest legs in Jerusalem. But as she uncovers shocking secrets, forbidden romances, and the family curse that links the women together, Gabriela must face a past and present far more complex than she ever imagined.
Set against the Golden Age of Hollywood, the dark days of World War II, and the swingin' '70s, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalemfollows generations of unforgettable women as they forge their own paths through times of dramatic change. With great humor and heart, Sarit Yishai-Levi has given us a powerful story of love and forgiveness—and the unexpected and enchanting places we find each.

This book sounds absolutely awesome and I am so excited to read it and share my review with all of you! Now, for an excerpt!

MY MOTHER LUNA PASSED AWAY shortly before my eighteenth birthday. A year earlier, while the whole family was sitting around the table for lunch as usual, and she was serving her famous sofrito with peas and white rice, she sat down on her chair and said, “Dio santo, I can’t feel my leg.”
Father ignored her and went on reading the paper and eating. My little brother Ronny laughed and shook Mother’s leg under the table. “Mother’s got a leg like a doll’s!”
“It’s not funny,” my mother said angrily. “I can’t feel my foot on the floor.”
Father and I continued eating.
Por Dio, David, I can’t stand on my leg,” she repeated. “It’s not doing what I tell it.”
Now she was on the verge of hysteria. Father finally stopped eating and took his head out of the paper.
“Try and stand up,” he said. Mother was unsteady on her feet and held on to the corner of the table.
“We should get you to the doctor’s,” Father said.
But the minute they walked out the door, Mother’s leg did as it was told, and she could feel it again as if nothing had happened.
“See? It’s nothing,” said Father. “You’re being dramatic as usual.”
“Yes, right. I’m dramatic,” Mother replied. “If it had happened to you, people would have heard the ambulance siren from here to Katamon.”
The episode passed as if it had never happened. Mother would recount it over and over to Rachelika and Becky and anyone else who was prepared to listen, and Father would lose his temper and say, “Enough! How many times do we have to hear the story about your marionette leg?”
Then the second incident occurred. Mother came home from the grocery, and just as she was about to walk inside, she fell and lost consciousness. This time an ambulance was called and Mother was rushed to Bikur Holim Hospital. She couldn’t stand or walk and was diagnosed with cancer. That was when Mother began to stop talking, especially to Father. He’d try to engage her and she just wouldn’t answer. Her sisters, Rachelika and Becky, neglected their families so they could sit with her almost around the clock. Despite their pleading, she refused to leave the house, ashamed that people would see her, Luna, the woman who had the most beautiful legs in Jerusalem, in a wheelchair.
As much as I hardened my heart at the time, it was distressing to see Rachelika peeling an orange for Mother, begging her to eat her favorite fruit, and Becky gently painting Mother’s nails with red polish, for even then, when she was so sick and weak, she was still meticulous about her manicure and pedicure. Rachelika and Becky both did their utmost to behave naturally, as if nothing terrible was happening, and chattered away, “yackety-yak like a couple of hens,” as my grandmother Nona Rosa used to say. Only Luna, the biggest chatterbox of all, remained silent.
At night one of them would stay over to sleep with Mother, who now occupied the living room sofa’s pullout bed, encircled with dining chairs to prevent her from falling off. All of Father’s pleas that she sleep in their bedroom and he in the living room fell on deaf ears.
“She says she can’t breathe in the bedroom,” Rachelika told Father. “At least youcan get a proper night’s sleep so you’ll have the strength to look after the children.”
But my little brother Ronny and I didn’t need Father to look after us. We both took advantage of the fact that everyone was preoccupied with Mother and gave ourselves the freedom to roam. Ronny preferred the company of boys his age and spent whole days in their houses, and many nights as well, while I spent my time with Amnon, my boyfriend. Amnon’s parents had a bookshop at the center of town and his sister was married, so their big house on Hamaalot Street was ours for the taking. Had my father known what we were up to, he would have beaten Amnon to a pulp and sent me to live on a kibbutz.
After her diagnosis, Mother no longer called me a “street girl” or threatened to tell my father when I got home late. She wouldn’t even look at me, but just sat in her wheelchair staring into space or whispering with one of her sisters. Father would make dinner, and he too wouldn’t ask me any questions or show interest in what I was doing. It seemed they all preferred that I spend as little time as possible at home so I wouldn’t annoy Mother, God forbid, who even when in her wheelchair didn’t get good behavior from me.
One afternoon when I was about to leave the house to meet Amnon, Rachelika stopped me.
“I have to stop home,” she said, “so stay with your mother until Becky gets here.”
“But I have a test! I have to go to my friend’s to study.”
“Ask your friend to come here.”
“No!” My mother’s voice, hardly ever heard in those days, made us jump. “You’re not asking anyone to come here. If you want to go, go. I don’t need you to stay here and look after me.”
“Luna,” said Rachelika, “you can’t stay here on your own.”
“I don’t need Gabriela to hold my hand. I don’t need her to look after me or you to look after me or Becky to look after me or the devil to look after me. I don’t need anything, just leave me be!”
“Don’t get angry, Luna. It’s been two days since I saw Moise and the children. I have to go check in.”
“Go wherever you want,” my mother replied and withdrew into herself again.
“God forgive us,” Rachelika said, wringing her hands. I’d never seen my aunt in such despair, but she quickly regained her composure. “You’re staying here with your mother!” she ordered me. “I’m going home for a few minutes and I’ll be right back. And don’t you dare leave her for one second.”
She turned and went, leaving me alone with my mother. You could have cut the air with a knife. My mother sitting in her wheelchair, her face sour and angry, and me standing in the middle of the living room like an idiot. At that moment I would have done anything just not to be alone with her.
“I’m going to my room to study,” I said. “I’ll leave the door open. Call me if you need anything.”
“Sit down,” my mother said.
I paused, caught off guard by her request.
“I want to ask you for something.”
I tensed. My mother never asked me for anything. She only ever told me what to do.
“I want to ask you not to bring your friends here. I don’t want any strangers in the house until I die.”
“Until you die?” I was so alarmed that the only way I could deflect what she’d said was to respond with words that even I couldn’t believe. “You’ll bury us all.”
“Don’t worry, Gabriela. It will be you who buries me,” she said quietly.
The room felt too small for the both of us.
“Mother, you should be thanking God. There are people who get cancer and die right away. God loves you. You can talk, you can see, you’re alive.”
“You call this living?” My mother snorted. “My enemies should live like this. It’s a living death.”
“You’re the one who’s choosing to live like this,” I retorted. “If you wanted to, you could get dressed, put on makeup, and go out.”
“Yes, right,” she said. “Go out in a wheelchair.”
“Your friend the redhead, the one who was in the hospital with you during the war, he was in a wheelchair, and I don’t remember him not leaving the house, and I remember he was always smiling.”
My mother looked at me incredulously. “You remember him?” she asked softly.
“Of course I do. He used to sit me on his knee and spin us in his wheelchair like the bumper cars at the Luna Park.”
“The Luna Park,” Mother murmured. “The ghost train.” She suddenly burst into tears and with her hand signaled that I should go.
I took to my heels. The almost intimate conversation we’d had was too much for me to take. It was the closest we’d come to having a mother-daughter talk, and it too ended in tears.
My mother wept in waves that rose and fell, and in my room I shut my ears with my hands. I couldn’t bear the sound of her despair. Years later I’d regret that moment. Instead of my heart opening, it closed up tight. Instead of taking her in my arms and comforting her, I lay on the cold floor of my room, hands over my ears, and uttered a silent cry to God: Shut her up, God. Please shut her up.
And God foolishly heard me and shut her up. That night the ambulance siren wailed and its brakes screeched outside our house. Four brawny men climbed the fifty-four stairs to the top floor of our apartment building, laid my mother on a stretcher, and rushed her to the hospital. On the operating table the surgeons discovered to their horror that my mother’s body was completely ravaged inside.
“It’s all over,” my father told me. “There’s nothing the doctors can do. Your mother’s going to die.”
Many years after her death, when I found room in my heart for my mother, my Aunt Rachelika told me the secret of her suffering, the never-receding pain. But by then it was already too late to fix what had been broken between us.

SARIT YISHAI-LEVI is an English-speaking journalist and author. She has been a correspondent for Israeli newspapers and magazines and has hosted Hebrew TV and radio programs in Los Angeles. She is the author of four non-fiction books and the bestselling and award-winning novel, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem. She lives in Israel.

How does this book sound, in your opinion? Are you willing to read a historical fiction story like this?

No comments :

Post a Comment

I love comments, I always read them, they always make my day and help me improve my posts. Thank you!