From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Who is Rachel Jacobs? the 13-year-old asks her Muslim grandmother Rahat Siddiqi; that, Nana tells her, was my name before I was married. Thus does a grandmother's stunning reply and a granddaughter's promise to learn about her ancestors set Shepard's three voyages of discovery in motion: her grandmother's history; the story of the Bene Israel (one of the lost tribes of Israel that, having sailed from Israel two millennia ago, crashed on the Konkan coast in India; and her own self-discovery (her mother was Muslim, her father Christian, and her grand mother Jewish). Shepard balances all three journeys with dexterity as she spends her Fulbright year, with an old hand-drawn map and her grandmother's family tree, unraveling the mysteries of Nana's past while visiting and photographing the grand and minuscule synagogues in Bombay and on the Konkan Coast. A filmmaker, Shepard writes with a lively sense of pacing (her year proceeds chronologically, interspersed with well-placed flashbacks) and a keen sense of character (getting to know her friend, escort and fellow filmmaker Rekhev as gradually as she does, or capturing the Muslim baker who makes the only authentic challah in Bombay in a few strokes). Shepard's story is entertaining and instructive, inquiring and visionary. (Aug.)
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September 8, 2008
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In this elegantly crafted memoir, the author sets out to fulfill her grandmother's dying wish that she learn about her heritage. Her grandmother grew up among the Bene Israel, a small Jewish community in India; when she married a Muslim, she left Judaism and, eventually, India, and adopted the name Rahat Siddiqi. Shepard herself is the product of a mixed marriage: her mother is Pakistani and Muslim, her father American and Christian. After receiving a Fulbright, she left her life in the U.S. to document the remaining Indian Jews, whose numbers have steadily dwindled as many emigrate to Israel. Shepard's eagerness to maintain narrative tension leads to occasional artificiality, but her writing is vivid and her meditations on heritage and grief are moving.
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