This is what one reviewer had to say about my novel, “Once Upon a Thousand Hills”.
The combination of the Rwandan Genocide, contemporary London and a quirky young woman rebelling against her Jewish upbringing immediately caught my attention. Although Naomi seems to be a happy-go-lucky young woman, we soon learn that her life is riddled with gaps and dissatisfaction. An intelligent university graduate, she refuses to accept that there is no more to life than her demeaning job and her family’s expectation for her to marry her Jewish childhood sweetheart, Ephraim. Everything changes once she decides to volunteer at a refugee centre, where she meets the dark and enigmatic Darcy-like figure of John Paul Chambers, a Rwandan genocide survivor. What follows is a touching yet amusing story of searching for one’s identity; trying to break free from the shackles of the past.
Here is an extract from Chapter Three, where my protagonist Naomi demonstrates her need to break free from the shackles of her Jewish upbringing.
Here are some rules for Shabbat.
- No watching TV.
- No using phones.
- No wearing scruffy clothes.
- No cooking, washing, or ironing.
- No using any electrical items (therefore oven must be kept on special ‘Shabbat setting’ to keep pre-cooked food warm).
- No lighting matches (therefore Shabbat candles must be lit before Shabbat begins).
- No tearing of anything (therefore tissues must be used instead of loo roll).
- No …
And so on and so on and so forth. I forget exactly how many no’s there are. At any rate, I make a habit of breaking every single one of them, my special genius being that I manage to keep this a secret from my landlords, as well as Mum and Dad. He who knows not and knows not he knows not … Isn’t there a saying that goes along those lines? Anyway, they know not.
It was ten o’clock on Saturday morning, my favourite time of the week. Shabbat still had a good few hours to run (till sunset to be precise, making a total of twenty-four hours, which I reckon is way too long), so the next handful of hours were mine for the taking.
Every Saturday morning the entire Blumenberg family troops along to the synagogue, where Elijah pours forth his famous baritone psalm renderings, most of which he rehearses in the shower every morning of his life. Miriam calls this noisy time of morning Elijah FM. The synagogue service takes up at least an hour and a half, then afterwards there’s always a jolly Kiddush lunch for everyone, served up by whoever’s turn it is to prepare it, so that takes up the next hour and a half, and by the time they all get back home it’s at least one o’clock. That means every Saturday I get to steal a whole three hours to myself – the only time of the week I can ever call completely my own. And it’s bloody brilliant!
On this sunny Shabbat morn I was feeling particularly rebellious. I still hadn’t phoned Ephraim yet, but now wasn’t the time to think about that. I had an appointment to keep with my mobile. The number of the refugee centre beckoned, and I was up for the challenge. Of course there was the small matter of that irritating man I’d spoken to last night, but all my common sense (which isn’t much, according to Dad) told me that he was merely a fluke. Chances were I’d speak to a normal human being next time round. Which happened to be today. At twelve o’clock sharp.
That gave me two hours in which to break just about every Shabbat rule by the simple means of cooking myself a large, tasty fry-up breakfast while the Blumenbergs were out of harm’s way. Out of sight, out of mind, isn’t that how it goes? I would metamorphose into a wicked she-devil by: switching on the grill (not allowed), heating up the frying pan (not allowed), lighting up the gas hobs (not allowed), getting out my secret supply of streaky bacon (DEFINITELY not allowed), as well as eggs, baked beans, tomatoes and bread, which are allowed as long as you don’t light the gas hobs to cook them. Hmm. I had already transferred this hidden stash of food from the mini fridge in my attic room all the way down two flights of stairs to the Blumenbergs’ kitchen and was ready to begin.
Yes, I defiantly thought to myself as I went about coating the eggs in hot bacon fat, Saturday mornings were the best time of the week!
And then my mobile rang.