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The Jerusalem Irris Makler describes in her entertaining memoir Hope Street, Jerusalem sounds incredible. It’s got good weather, cafes and farmers markets galore, gorgeous sandstone architecture, and cultures and languages that have been percolating in a historical stew for thousands of years. It’s where Makler first fell in love, with her Israeli boyfriend Raphael; where Makler found her ratbag of a dog Mia; and where she did some of her most significant work in her job as an international news correspondent.
Jerusalem sounds fantastic. If it wasn’t for all those suicide bombings.
In this way Makler describes her years in Jerusalem in Hope Street, Jerusalem, her troubled love song to the ancient Biblical city. While a good deal of the book is given over to her romance with Raphael and her trials with Mia, it’s nevertheless the shadow of the Israeli-Palestine conflict that looms over all.
It’s jolting to read of Makler’s horror at Raphael taking the bus—a perfectly innocuous thing to do unless you live in a city where buses are frequently the target of terrorists’ bombs. In Jerusalem, the political and the personal live dangerously cheek by jowl, and one of this book’s great strengths is Makler’s ability to navigate between the two to find the personal story within the big political picture.
Again and again, Makler finds just the right human story to bring major political events close to home. To her credit, though, the string of tragedies she inevitably ends up describing never feel maudlin, sentimental or trivialised.
Makler also bares all about her bittersweet relationship with Raphael and her difficulties with Mia in this book. While her romantic life makes good reading (who doesn’t love a good romance?), the number of pages devoted to shenanigans with Mia was rather excessive. But my sense of doggy excess is surely coloured by the fact that I don’t own (and have never owned) a dog, and dog lovers may well adore this book.
Moreover, the drama of the book’s opening (during which Makler’s jaw is smashed by a stone thrown by a protester) is not adequately paid off by the ending, and the attempts at constructing a book-wide theme (namely, fate versus free will) come off sounding exactly that—constructed.
While these large-scale structural aspects fall flat, Makler’s skills at shaping the miniature are undeniable. Makler has a razor sharp eye for detail and for human (and doggy) behaviour, an ear well tuned to Jerusalem’s different speech patterns and accents (from Haim the fishmonger: “Yes, I know they’re different colours, this one is orange and that one is grey, but they are the same fish. What do you think—that I don’t know my fish?”), and a journalist’s well-honed ability to vividly and concisely tell a story well.
These skills bring Jerusalem, in all its dangerous, chaotic, multicultural madness, to life. Hope Street, Jerusalem is part armchair travel memoir, part diary-of-a-dog-owner, part pocket history of the Middle East, part romance, and all in all a perfect beach read.
Reviewed by Feby Idrus
Hope Street, Jerusalem
By Irris Makler
Published by HarperCollins