In this affecting, perceptive debut novel, Rachel Kadish reflects on the ghosts of the past, the tensions of war, and the difficult bonds of family. When Maya enrolls at Hebrew University in Jerusalem shortly after the Gulf War, she hopes to leave New York and a fraught relationship with her mother behind her. In Israel, she gets to know her older cousin Tami, a housewife whose home has a room sealed against the war's Scud missile attacks. Like Maya, Tami feels distanced from the people closest to her -- her mother, her husband, her only son. But it will ultimately be Maya's visits with Shifra, an elderly recluse and Holocaust survivor who lives in the apartment below her, that give Maya the courage to confront her problems and break free of the burdens of her past.
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy famously wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This celebrated maxim seems questionable at best to literature professor Tracy Farber. If Tolstoy is to be taken at his word, only unhappiness is interesting; happiness is predictable and bland. Tracy secretly nurtures an unusual project: proving that happiness can be uniquely interesting, in literature and in life. Although challenging the masterly Tolstoy creates a potential threat to her job security, Tracy is confident. After all, she's her own perfect example -- content with friends and work and satisfied to be single at age thirty-three. But then she meets George, who will sweep her off her feet and challenge all of her theories. When love proves more complicated than Tracy had imagined, she struggles to find happiness in a way that fulfills both her head and her heart.
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