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All The Things You Are by Clemency Burton-Hill

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Publisher: Headline
Source: Bookbridgr
Rating: 4/5

Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the acclaimed author of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STARS comes a richly rewarding novel about the way a life can change in an instant. In the bestselling tradition of Douglas Kennedy. A rich, tense and absorbing novel of a woman's journey to Jerusalem from Manhattan to follow her heart, no matter what the cost. When New York journalist Natasha Bernstein loses her job and discovers her fiancée has been keeping a dark secret, her world collapses. Turning to her family, she takes inspiration from her formidable grandmother Esther, who runs a community centre in downtown Manhattan. As she starts to rebuild her life, Natasha's friendship with Rafi - the enigmatic architect working on Esther's centre - restores her sense of wonder at the world and her faith in who she is. But when Rafi and Natasha take a trip to Jerusalem, they are plunged into a story far deeper than their own. Here, questions of family and loyalty mean more than life itself, and they must ask themselves what they are ultimately prepared to fight for. In a divided world, is it history or love that makes us who we are?
I absolutely loved this book! As I think I've said before on here, I'm always drawn to books about Jewish families and as soon as I saw Jerusalem in the blurb, I immediately requested All The Things You Are. The plot reminded me at times of that mini-series that came on a few years ago, The Promise, starring Claire Foy - who I've just seen is playing Anne Boleyn in the Wolf Hall adaptation. Perfect casting but I digress...The subject was sensitively handled and there was no 'preaching' - all sides of the situation were presented through various characters. However, All The Things You Are is ultimately a story about love conquering all.

I fell hard for all of the characters. They were all written with such warmth and light even though their circumstances might have been difficult. Tash (I love the name Natasha so I was already on her side) was curious and intelligent and passionate. After managing to push Rafi from The League out of my head (no easy feat), I was able to completely appreciate All The Things You Are's Rafi very much. He was so positive and upbeat, whereas Natasha was naturally more skeptical. His outlook was quite inspiring, actually. They balanced each other out perfectly - she grounded him with doses of realism and he injected her life with optimism even in the face of adversity. This was also nicely reflected in their careers - Rafi, the artchitect; Natasha the journalist.

Esther must have been difficult to write because of the great responsibility that comes when writing about the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors. Esther possesed the right amount of gravitas and lightness. There were some lovely moments with her character, particularly between her and her daughter Ros (Natasha's mother). She was definitely a scene stealer and could have a spin off book all of her own. I like to think in the alternate literary world that is my bookshelf, Esther would be friends with Ziva from Francesca Segal's The Innocents.

The story is set in both New York and Jerusalem. These are two cities which have been in my heart since childhood - only one of which I've ever made it to (how crazy is it that a Theology graduate has never been to Israel?!). In the authors note and Q&A at the back, Clemency Burton-Hill talks about how much she loves New York and this is evident in her writing. You can pretty much taste the city because it is obvious that she cannot get enough of the city, which I completely understand. I would LOVE to live there, even just for a few months (although maybe not during another polar vortex). Similarly, the parts of the story set in Israel were also evidently written from a place of love. It was clever making it a holiday destination because it allowed us, the readers, to go on a whirlwind trip around all the tourist destinations too. Oh and the references to all of the food were amazing!

However, the theme at the heart of the story was inter-cultural relationships, and the exploration raised some interesting discussion points. I don't really have an opinion either way - my own heritage is more mixed up than a super smoothie and I love it. However, there's always going to be little -and sometimes larger- issues to overcome when merging two cultures. This became a reality for Tash and Rafi eventually as they got to know more about each other and were confronted with their own family histories in their ancestral homeland. For example, at one point, one of them refers to the other's cultural group as "those people"- not in a horrible way but it came out like that during a heated discussion. In a mixed relationship, won't there always be a 'them' or 'other' hovering in the background? Particularly during arguments, in the heat of the moment, these sorts of phrases come out, don't they? Eventually, a compromise will have to come about in some way but where do you draw the line? Perhaps when children come into the picture. Again, I'm not coming at this from any particular angle - I'm a firm believer in you love who you love - but I'm just curious and this story brought these kinds of questions to the table. At the end of the day, does love really "transcend tribe" (as stated in the book) and blot out these issues in its all conquering nature?

Overall, All The Things You Are is a wonderful novel that I truly appreciated on many levels - as a Theology graduate; as a lover of New York; as a person with a pretty mixed up heritage; and most importantly, as a fan of a good love story filled to bursting with beautiful characters (I really didn't want to say goodbye to Rafi and Tash and their families!). It also made me really want to tick that other city off my list - Jerusalem 2015, perhaps?

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