Sue Kerman’s research into Jerusalem in the 19th Century has resulted in a fine, albeit slight, fictionalization of an intriguing character’s career in Palestine of the time. It contains a loose-fitting framework of a contemporary story bracketing a purported history of a Jewish widow who decides she will go to Jerusalem, since she doesn’t have anything too compelling to keep her in New York.
Ms. Kerman tells the story through entries in the protagonist’s journal, and travel articles for the New York Times. The author intends a portrait of Jerusalem at a time when it was in the control of Muslims, but had significant Jewish and Christian populations, which were socially inferior at the time. At this task, she succeeds pretty well: we get insight into the issues that seem unfortunately to plague Jerusalem almost to this day – fanaticism, tension, intolerance. We get a balanced account of how families and foreigners try to cope and make ends meet, but overall, the story is slight and shallow. Jerusalem is the real center of attention here, but Ms. Kerman does add a twist at the end that partway lays the foundation for the light, oblique touch that precedes it.
If you’re interested in Jerusalem at the middle of the 19th Century, this book will provide an effective glimpse into it. Also, it’s a light, fairly entertaining read, that will divert you with its construct and inform you with its details.