Some years back, during a discussion about what was then the latest tragic news coming out of the Middle East, a friend’s mother softly remarked about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, “The absolute worst arguments happen among families.” She (the widow of conservative rabbi) was referring specifically to the shared Abrahamic ancestry of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. From Cain and Abel onward, too much of history – and not just religious history – has proven the truth in Mommy’s simple statement.
Welcome to Jerusalem, “… a stubborn little slab of reality that nevertheless shimmers like a mirage before the eyes of both the made and the sane, united them into a single brotherhood of dreamers, murderers, and poets.” The ‘family’ of the subtitle is the Halaby clan, originally from Syria, who arrive in the foothills of Jerusalem in 1893. A half century later, the family is bookended by two sons with four sisters in between: the elder, Yakov, is a wealthy community leader; Izak, six years younger, is always on the verge of ruin, mostly at the hands of his own brother. Yakov’s childhood animosity – ”… overcome by jealousy at the attention lavished on his brother, [Yakov] vowed never to allow Izak a moment’s peace” – remains a trenchant reality, even into middle age.
During the violent, tumultuous 1940s leading up to the declaration of an independent state of Israel in 1948, the Halaby brothers and their families live vastly different lives. Yakov manages to maintain stability and comfort – luxury, even – all the while tormenting Izak, even causing his brother’s imprisonment when Izak is unable to keep up with loan payments. While Izak is virtually powerless, his angry, often cruel, wife desperately tries to keep her family together. Their sons’ reactions to their threatened lives vary significantly: one joins hands with his Muslim neighbors to serve the Communist Party, one leaves the family to fight abroad, one becomes entangled with an extremist anti-British underground network, and the youngest grows his reputation as a street hoodlum. The neverending conflict beyond the disparate Halabys is magnified within their relationships with one another … in spite of glimmering moments of haunting hope, tragedy proves inevitable – again and again and again.
“Inspired by stories told to him by his father,” author Boaz Yakin – perhaps better known as a filmmaker (Now You See Me, Prince of Persia, Remember the Titans) – unwinds the Halaby history with unflinching detail, brought to the page by veteran graphic illustrator Nick Bertozzi whose images never stand still. As in too many families in conflict, winners and losers prove indiscernible … the only truth is that people suffer, and always, the children most of all.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult