Fruit trees and family trees intertwine in The Family Orchard, Nomi Eve's semi-autobiographical novel that traces a fictional Israeli family from the early 19th century to the present. The title refers to the family business: growing citrus.
The Family Orchard treats the reader to characters like Avra, a lovely compulsive thief who doesn't keep her booty, but artistically relocates stolen objects into humorous contexts. We also meet Miriam, an activist who trains in grenade throwing well into her second pregnancy. Spanning almost the entire 19th and 20th centuries in Israel, The Family Orchardtouches significantly on Jewish history in other parts of the word as well. Readers see the Holocaust, not close up as in much recent fiction, but from a great distance. Instead of seeing the victims of genocide, we read about the Haganah, the Israeli underground movement that helped European Jews flee Europe by immigrating illegally to Israel. We read about surviving cousins finally located after a long search and brought to Israel. The greatness of The Family Orchard lies not in its politics, however, but in its exploration of family psychology. How can one couple maintain a lifelong passion while, in the next generation, a secret tragedy makes irreparable tears in the fabric of happiness?
Eve leads you through this family saga in much the same way children are led through the family album, one page, one couple at a time, until the photos become familiar those of the current generation. The early chapters, about distant ancestors, capture the way families mythologize their roots, blending known fact with powerful faith. By inserting herself directly into the last pages of her novel, without even changing her name, Eve inventively challenges conventions concerning the separation of fiction and autobiography. Families rarely observe those conventions in the way they pass on ancestral stories from one generation to the next, and Eve gives us a novel based on that flagrant blending of truth and poetry.
Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.