- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Penguin India (1 February 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670058661
- ISBN-13: 978-0670058662
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,57,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Book of Rachel Hardcover – 1 Feb 2006
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In these land-hungry times, developers soon cast their eyes on the empty synagogue and its property, but Rachel decides to fight to protect this monument of her faith, the one surviving link to the Jewish heritage of her ancestors.
The novel's main story is the aging Rachel's struggle to save the synagogue; a sweet little romance forms a sub-plot; but the real story is about how faith and heritage live on, not only in the temples that people build, but in people themselves. Rachel, surrounded by her goats, ducks, cat and adopted mongrel Brownie, is lonely but spirited. Although her children call her to Israel, she wants to stay on in this country where her husband is buried. Her Jewish identity is precious to her, but Israel is for her an unknown land. She speaks Marathi, wears traditional saris and is sometimes introduced by her neighbours, at their functions, as a Konkanastha Brahmin. As she sweeps and mops the synagogue floor, this last surviving Jew of Danda chants "Deva re Deva", hums a Marathi version of "The Lord is My Shepherd", and sings a Marathi bhajan to the child Moses found floating in the Nile, adapted from a Marathi bhajan about Krishna. When she is in tears at not being able to hold her first grandchild, the other women bring pedas, sing a kirtan to Krishna, sit on her garden swing, climb the tamarind tree, play Hindi film songs on her tape player, and help her celebrate.
The best part of the book is the traditional Bene Israel recipe that opens each chapter. The author's lovely illustrations and small notes on the significance of each item accompany the recipes. The recipes are a wonderful example of the ways in which the Bene Israel Jews integrated into their adopted Konkan homeland, while retaining their own identity.
Rachel's memories also keep the past alive, whether it is how her husband Aaron sprayed aftershave before posing for a photograph, or how the synagogue once had a cantor, a minyan of ten men, and full services. She also remembers the visit of an American rabbi who admonishes the synagogue committee for not letting Rachel clean the teva because she was a woman. Today, the synagogue is more than a monument or a relic. It is kept alive by Rachel's faith. Book of Rachel is the splendid, heart warming narrative of that faith.