Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Review: The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi; translated by Anthony Berris


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 Jerusalem follows 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.


Published April 5th 2016 by Thomas Dunne

Available: Amazon | The Book Depository (affiliate links)

My Review:

This book, to me, just feels wise. It's one of those multi-generational stories that have depth and pathos that make them feel absolutely real rather than works of fiction. Yishai-Levi has made all the details of this time period come alive, from Ladino to Hebrew phrases that the characters would've used in the original translation to the the culture of Jerusalem around the time of the second World War.

As Gabriela discovers the secrets of her family through various sources, the reader experiences the heartbreak and confusion that are inherent in the struggles each woman faces. The focus is, of course, Luna, "the beauty queen of Jerusalem." Since all the men of the family have been cursed to marry women that are not the women they truly love, their true love and affection is poured out on their daughters, and in Luna's case, this extraordinary favor from her father turns her into a young woman who is spoiled and hateful, constantly at odds with her mother and many others. Yet, she herself falls into the exact trap as her own mother, even while swearing she will never do the same.

Gabriella has to deal with the scars left behind by all of this. Unlike the women affected by the curse unknowingly, she goes into life and relationships with her eyes open to this problem, pushing away her true love out of fear, living a life that is empty and hollow.

I fully enjoyed journeying through these issues with the characters, learning their life lessons along with them. Even though life is filled with profound disappointment and hardship for the men and women alike, they each have their moments of overwhelming joy, showing that life is never an all or nothing thing, constantly morphing with the choices we make.

Source: I received a copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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