The Jewish Eye
Who by Fire
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - November 17, 2008
Who by Fire is the stunning debut novel by Diana Spechler. Written from multiple points of view, this book provides an intimate glimpse into the world of the dysfunctional and brokenhearted Kellerman family. The family unit was initially fractured when six-year-old Alena was kidnapped and never seen again. Now, thirteen years later, Ben, the family's patriarch has fled. Ellie, the mother is still grieving for the loss of her beloved daughter, and still blaming her other two children, Ash and Bits (Beatrice), for not having been the one stolen.
When Ash drops out of college and enters the world of Orthodox Jewry, Ellie decides that he has joined a cult and she begins to blame her daughter Bits for what she sees as her son's self-orchestrated disappearance. When Alena's remains are found, it falls upon Bits to try to bring her brother home for the funeral - a task that is easier said than done. Ash has moved to Israel to attend Yeshiva Hillel - but has failed to tell anyone where he is, so it falls upon Bits to go to Israel, herself, to hunt for her missing brother.
In the events that follow, Spechler delves into the mind set and machinations of Ellie, Ash and Bits and each pursues their own activities. Ellie, for her part, joins a support group for parents of children that have joined a cult and tries to find solace in the arms of another. Ash tries to come to terms with his struggles to find his place with the varied worlds of Orthodox Judaism and to come to terms with his growing feelings for a non-orthodox girl. Meanwhile, Bits who feels abandoned by her brother, is trying to settle her own domestic disturbances with her boyfriend Wade, while also struggling to reunite her family.
Intimate, vibrant, and moving, Who by Fire is an incredible book. The story is full of emotional content, and by telling the story from the viewpoints of Ellie, Ash, and Bits, you really start to care about the characters. You also get a real feel for how each character is dealing with their own individual problems, as well as those of the family as a whole. This is also a story about familiar love, and how, even when all seems to be falling apart, there is still hope. Hope for reconciliation, hope for finding resolution, and hope for happiness. In short, Who by Fire is an unputdownable novel whose unforgettable story and somewhat surprising ending will leave you satisfied, and eager to read more from this amazing new talent. It is also a story that you will want to talk about, making it an ideal selection for book clubs and literary groups.
This Harper Perennial edition of Who by Fire offers some attractive additions. At the end of the book you'll find the text of an interview with the author, a short essay by the author about the book and blame, in general, and a list of the authors top ten favorite books about families. These additional features help you to connect with the author and to the story. I highly recommend Who by Fire to anyone who wants to read something by an amazing new author who is bound to become a 'name'. As well as, for anyone seeking a thought-provoking and gripping story with which to while away a few memorable hours!
Please note that there is some strong language in this book, but it is used sparingly. Within the context of the story, its use is appropriate.
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- A Widow's Tale, by Dina Bar-Tov.
This is a witty and compassionate story about a 42-year-old, ultra-religious widow with nine children who must learn to come to terms with her husbands unexpected death, and the difficulties she faces when she decides that it is time to remarry.
- Chains Around the Grass, by Naomi Ragen.
The Markowitz's are left destitute in 1955 when the head of the household dies suddenly. Each member of the family deals with the situation in their own way. We follow the plight of this fractured family through the eyes of Sara, the middle child, as we watch her grow into a young and self-assured woman.
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