Harry Rosenmerck, a successful Jewish Cardiologist, just walked away. He walked away from his family, his career, his life, and everything he knew and loved to start a pig farm in Israel. This sounds like the set-up for a potentially insensitive joke, but it isn’t. Harry is deadly serious, as he explains to Rabbi Moshe Cattan. But Rabbi Cattan isn’t the only person demanding explanations. Monique Rosenmerck, Harry’s recently divorced ex-wife, wants to know why he left and why he won’t install a telephone so they can talk. His son David, a successful playwright, also wants to know why Harry left and wonders why his father hasn’t spoken to him in over six years. And, finally, there is Harry’s daughter Annabelle, who is suffering through the end of a doomed long-term relationship. She decides that rather than demanding Harry respond to her repeated letters, she’s heading to Israel herself to get answers.
In Holy Lands, French novelist, playwright, screenwriter and filmmaker Amanda Sthers highlights how unique the dynamics of each family can be while dealing with the universal experiences that affect us all. Because Harry has refused to install a telephone in Israel, and subsequently has no regular internet connection, Sthers tells the story of the Rosenmerck family through the letters the family are forced to use to communicate with Harry, and the emails they use to stay in contact with each other. The result is a lesson, much like 2018’s Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, in the lost art of writing letters: how much can be stated directly in the writing and how much meaning the reader can intuit from what is left unsaid?
The novel shifts from out-loud funny, as when Harry attempts to explain his reasons for establishing a pig farm in Israel to a local Rabbi, to the frustrating and heartbreaking as Harry and the Rabbi share their perspectives on the circumstances in the Middle East and the ongoing political unrest over Jerusalem.
Holy Lands is a gentle, thought-provoking novel about discovery, responsibilities, boundaries and sanctuaries, ranging from the deeply personal to those that are global in nature. It is also a wonderful English/American debut.