In her gripping debut novel, Israela, Dr. Batya Casper accomplishes what very few contemporary novelists manage to do. She provides an educational and eye-opening account of a country’s political history–in this case, Israel–while developing memorable characters whose painful struggles and rich cultural traditions resonate with readers long after they finish reading the book.
Israela is intense and follows the interwoven lives of three complex, interesting women; however, it is not gratuitous. Israela tells the story of the life of Ratiba, a journalist who keeps her Jewish heritage a secret in order to marry an Israeli Arab, and how that secret influences her life choices.
It is also the moving journey of Ratiba’s sister, Orit, an actress who Ratiba must shun in order to preserve the secret of her past. The reader is drawn in by Orit’s believable voice and sympathizes with her as she longs for truth and a relationship with her sister. In a parallel storyline, Ratiba and Orit’s cousin, Elisheva is a nurse who works to save the wounded and dying, and is forced to make some difficult choices of her own.
Israela is the mingling of the ancient history and the present day realities of two politically and culturally diverse people—the Israelis and the Arabs and a tension that dates back to biblical times. It gives the reader an excellent opportunity to learn more about Israeli history and experience the beauty and tradition of Israeli culture.
Although Israela tells a story of culture, it is also about humanity–sisterhood, loyalty, longing for acceptance, and survival. Israela is highly recommended for book clubs because, despite its particular historical significance, each character deals with themes that are universal: family loyalty, the rigidity of religious division, the cruel effects of war, and the power of love and redemption.