Henna House, Nomi Eve
Reviewd by Amanda
Published August 12th 2014 by Scribner
Nomi Eve’s vivid saga begins in Yemen in 1920, when Adela Damari’s parents desperately seek a future husband for their young daughter. After passage of the Orphan’s Decree, any unbetrothed Jewish child left orphaned will be instantly adopted by the local Muslim community. With her parents’ health failing, and no spousal prospects in sight, Adela’s situation looks dire until her uncle arrives from a faraway city, bringing with him a cousin and aunt who introduce Adela to the powerful rituals of henna tattooing. Suddenly, Adela’s eyes are opened to the world, and she begins to understand what it means to love another and one’s heritage. She is imperiled, however, when her parents die and a prolonged drought threatens their long-established way of life. She and her extended family flee to the city of Aden where Adela encounters old loves, discovers her true calling, and is ultimately betrayed by the people and customs she once held dear.
Henna House is an intimate family portrait and a panorama of history. From the traditions of the Yemenite Jews, to the far-ranging devastation of the Holocaust, to the birth of the State of Israel, Eve offers an unforgettable coming-of-age story and a textured chronicle of a fascinating period in the twentieth century.
I am still reeling from this book. First of all, how gorgeous is that cover? I find the practice of henna to be beautiful and fascinating and I had no idea that it was widespread beyond India. I’ll say I was wholly unaware of the story of Yemenite Jews as well so I feel like I learned a lot from this book.
Adela’s childhood in Yemen was far from idyllic. Her mother is disconnected from her, her brothers seem like terrible people and she knows her father is dying. The law of the Imam at the time is that any Jewish child orphaned by their father will be adopted by a Muslim family to be converted. Adela is watched closely by the family that wants to take her away so basically the poor child lives in terror. The exception to this rule is for a child who is to be married, so Adela’s parents should have had her engaged from the time of her toddlerhood. Key being should have. We see how this failure to plan haunts Adela as she grows up and especially in the wake of her parents deaths.
As a young girl growing up in the Middle East in the 1920’s and ‘30s Adela has very little control over her own life. Despite the lack of power Adela really impressed me. When her cousins move in next door and introduce her to their henna nights Adela learns about the power she can have as a woman. She learns to draw with henna and begins to learn the alphabet and dreams of more in her life. Her life at the end of the book was not at all what I would have predicted when we met her. All of Adela’s life is wrapped up in these henna patterns that you can nearly see through Eve’s words. The writing is as beautiful as the henna itself. I both loved and hated parts of the ending I have to say-some of it was just too much for me.
Comparisons to The Red Tent are inevitable and I think this is a worthy successor!
Thank you Scribner and NetGalley for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion.