Between Two Deserts is the first of four novels Germaine Shames has written since 2002. A former foreign correspondent, Germaine took a scissors to her press pass when she realized reporting about international news in an imposed limited format made it impossible to describe for readers the complicated interaction of people caught up in daily existence, politics, and war. Nowhere is this more evident than in Jerusalem during the Palestinian Intifada (1987 to 1993) where describing events as news misses the mark in showing the world the importance of religion, land, tradition, money, family, and information to Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. Ms. Shames’ first novel shows the reader that at individual and social levels, there are many strongly-held points of view that involve more questions than answers. As a writer of fiction, Ms. Shames also understands what E. M. Forster indicated in India during the British Raj, that writing novels about foreign locations is always given the most color when love relationships develop in unfamiliar and stressful circumstances.
The cast of characters in Between Two Deserts cluster around the lodestone, Eve Cavell, a young American Jew who travels to Jerusalem after the death of her grandfather. Two generations away from the holocaust, Eve is not a wide-eyed ingénue but rather a person with superficial attachments to Jewish tradition and feelings of the sanctity of the homeland. Showing an apparent weak identity with her heritage, Eve seems free of strong political views and social prejudice. She is vital in her open sexuality and general freedom of spirit, qualities that are suppressed in Jerusalem residents. Characters illustrating constricted views and behaviors on the unsettled stage of Jerusalem during the period of Palestinian uprising include: Mozes Koenig a professor of Middle East Studies from Budapest survivor of the Holocaust and author of a novel popular ten years ago in Jerusalem A Time for War, Salim Mahmoud a restless young Arab man whose family’s wealth was greatly decreased when the Israelis annexed East Jerusalem, engineer Jacob Halevi an orphan placed by the Jewish Agency on Kibbutz Sde Boker after surviving World War II, Jacob’s wife Leah a degreed psychologist in private practice, Sana Mahmoud director of an orphanage for Arab children whose goal was to raise the next generation of Palestinian nationalists.
The story involves Mozes’ controversial new novel, A Time for Peace, inspired by his wife Gizella who was shot dead in route to Dachau for singing a lullaby to a frightened child. Eve reminds him of his wife, his muse, giving him new insight into the Israeli/Palestinian problem making him think that peace is possible. Salim, Jacob, and Sana do not see eye to eye with Mozes or each other.
This is an excellent novel that I enjoyed reading as much as I did Ms. Shames’ other three novels: Hotel Noir and Echo Year (written as Casper Silk) and You, Fascinating You. I so admire her writing style. It captures the essence of the settings and the characters with poetic impact. In Between Two Deserts, Germaine reminds me of Lawrence Durrell and his novel, Justine. Jerusalem and Eve are the focus for Shames, and Alexandria and Justine are the focus for Durrell. As with Durrell, Germaine Shames writes with a great sense of time and timing. I highly recommend all four of Germaine Shames' novels.