Drawing in the Dust

( 30 )

Overview

Brilliant archaeologist Page Brookstone is convinced bones speak, yet none of the ancient remnants she has unearthed during her twelve years of toiling at Israel's storied battlegrounds of Megiddo has delivered the life-altering message she so craves. Which is why the story of Ibrahim and Aisha Barakat, a young Arab couple who implore Page to excavate the grounds beneath their house in Anatot, instantly intrigues her.

The Barakats claim the ghosts of two lovers haunt their home,...

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Drawing In the Dust

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Overview

Brilliant archaeologist Page Brookstone is convinced bones speak, yet none of the ancient remnants she has unearthed during her twelve years of toiling at Israel's storied battlegrounds of Megiddo has delivered the life-altering message she so craves. Which is why the story of Ibrahim and Aisha Barakat, a young Arab couple who implore Page to excavate the grounds beneath their house in Anatot, instantly intrigues her.

The Barakats claim the ghosts of two lovers haunt their home, overwhelming everyone who enters with love and desire. Ignoring the scorn of her peers, Page investigates the site, where she is seduced by an undeniable force. Once Ibrahim presents Page with hard evidence of a cistern beneath his living room, she has no choice but to uncover the secret of the spirits.

It is not long before Page makes miraculous discoveries—the bones of the deeply troubled prophet Jeremiah locked in an eternal embrace with a mysterious woman named Anatiya. Buried with the entwined skeletons is a collection of Anatiya's scrolls, whose mystical words challenge centuries-old interpretations of the prophet's story and create a worldwide fervor that threatens to silence the truth about the lovers forever.

Caught in a forbidden romance of her own, and under constant siege from religious zealots and ruthless critics, Page risks her life and professional reputation to deliver Anatiya's passionate message to the world. In doing so, she discovers that to preserve her future in the land of the living, she must shake off the dust of the dead and let go of her own painful past. As poignant and thought-provoking as the beloved bestsellers The Red Tent and People of the Book, Zoë Klein's historically rich debut novel is a lyrical and unexpected journey that will stay with listeners forever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Insight into the world of biblical excavation in Israel raises Rabbi Klein's debut novel from a Jewish Da Vinci Code to an emotionally rich story of personal and historical discovery. After a dozen years digging in Megiddo, American archeologist Page Brookstone longs for something new. When an Arab couple propose that Page investigate the haunted ruins under their home, she ignores colleagues' misgivings and heads to Anatot, just outside Jerusalem. There, the couple, along with Page and her team, uncover murals, artifacts and remains suggesting they have come upon the grave of the prophet Jeremiah, buried with the woman he loved, Anatiya, who also has left a manuscript that parallels the Book of Jeremiah. The discovery ignites an international uproar and violent attacks while Page, affected by the ancient spirits, is attracted to Orthodox Israeli Mortichai Master, despite his connections to an organization opposing her efforts. Rabbi Klein's most vivid passages depict the meditative tedium of digging, the exultation of discovery and the intricate processes of authentication and preservation, while love stories past and present-and a balanced, compassionate view of both Israeli and Arab traditions-add to the book's pleasures. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Love-crazed 2,500-year-old ghosts prompt a discovery that shakes biblical scholarship to its foundations in Rabbi Klein's far-fetched but zesty debut. American archeologist Page Brookstone is burnt out. She's labored for 12 years in a Jerusalem dig, unearthing jarred infant mummies. Her supervisor, Norris, has been harassing her ever since she rebuffed his drunken pass. So when Palestinian attorney Ibrahim Barakat appeals to her to investigate some scandalous otherworldly goings-on, Page can't resist. The Barakat bungalow is located in Anata, birthplace of the sixth-century BCE doom-saying prophet Jeremiah. There, Page sees visions in kitchen steam of two figures embracing. Through a gaping hole Ibrahim dug in the living-room floor, she spots an underground chamber, its walls bedecked with frescos depicting Jeremiah's life. Then, an even more incredible find: the burial crypt of Jeremiah. His bones are intertwined with a smaller skeleton, that of servant maid Anatiya, whose tell-all diary, inscribed on a scroll, turns up nearby. The Israeli government takes charge of the remains while Jewish, Christian and Muslim fundamentalists decry the tomb's desecration. Soon Norris wrests the project from Page's hands, forming a consortium to translate Anatiya's scroll. Page digitally photographs the handmaid's scroll, uploading it to her laptop. Back in the States, she enlists a female translator friend to render the text before the all-male committee puts its stamp on Anatiya and distorts her message, namely that her irrepressible love transformed even pessimism poster prophet Jeremiah. Will Page find love with Mortichai, a half-Irish Orthodox Jew who's already engaged and is, in theory at least,opposed to grave robbing, even in the name of science? Will Anatiya finally have her say, countering the overwhelming patriarchal bias of the Bible? Even when narrator Page is at her whiniest, and Anitaya's journal waxes most anachronistically New-Agey, these questions spur intrigue, though the finale devolves into a standard women-in-jeopardy melodrama. Flawed but lively.
From the Publisher
"Lyrical, transformative, and unexpected, Drawing will keep you enthralled in the moment, yet racing to know more." —-Gina B. Nahai, New York Times bestselling author of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416599128
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 7/7/2009
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Zoe Klein

Zoë Klein, the senior rabbi of a large congregation, has written for Harper's Bazaar, Glamour, and Tikkun, as well as for a number of collections, including The Women's Torah Commentary.

Justine Eyre is a classically trained actress who has narrated over two hundred audiobooks. With a prestigious Audie Award and four AudioFile Earphones Awards under her belt, Justine is multilingual and is known for her great facility with accents. Her recent television credits include Two and a Half Men and Mad Men.

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Read an Excerpt

I

There is no blemish on the glow which surrounds you like a metal shield. But what good is a shield if the hurt is inside?...O Lord, let his heart break and begin to heal rather than this perpetual and terrible swell!
— The Scroll of Anatiya 4:42-47

I always wake before sunrise, at least two hours before any of my three housemates. I sit up in bed and stretch, kick off my covers. The polished limestone floor is cold, sending a shiver from my feet all the way up my spine, and it delights me. The light sifting through the window is soft and inviting, as if the house floats inside a lavender cloud. I pull on shorts, a tank top, and slide my white bandana over my hair. I lather my face, arms, legs with sun lotion. The air has the chill of white wine. I've seen sunlamps for people with seasonal depression, so that in the long, dark winters when their sadness peaks, they can replicate bright days and feel healed. I'd rather retire to a room with a gentle moonlamp, whirring metal fan, and dewy humidifier. I pull on my socks, my sneakers.

I patter down the hall. The door to our supervisor Norris's suite is ajar. He always sleeps with it a little open, as if tempting someone to come in. I can see his jeans and belt hanging over the back of his desk chair as I pass by. A picture of Mickey and Orna on their wedding day hangs on their closed door. In the picture Mickey is wearing a light brown suit and lopsided bow tie that look like they and the groom had just arrived in Israel off a boat from Russia, which isn't too far from the truth. He is bending his voluptuous sabra bride, Orna, a little bit backward, her raven black hair wild with curls, andresting his head just above her cleavage. Mickey always said he fell in love with her because she had "the ripest breasts in the Fertile Crescent...and a heart to match." A wooden plaque hangs from their doorknob reading in Hebrew birkat habayit, "blessing of the home."

I am the house ghost, in a way, spooking my way through the living room. Norris's leather chair, so out of place in a room of institutional-style furniture, is opened in a reclining position with a thin blanket spread over the arm and a rummaged newspaper at its feet. I can imagine him sitting here, as he often does late at night, drinking tea and watching reruns of Baywatch on Lebanese television. In the kitchen I drink a glass of grapefruit juice. I make a sandwich, roasted eggplant and turkey tucked into pita, and take a canteen of ice out of the freezer, pack them in my knapsack along with my tools, and head to the door.

There is a note pinned to the door that reads, "P — Dinner with Jerrold March tonight at 8. Prepare to present on shaft tombs. — N." I feel a tide of fury rise in me, not at the idea of dinner with Mr. March, one of our most generous sponsors. I've met with him many times whenever I've returned to New York, and he is always a perfect gentleman from the tip of his mustache to his deftness with a salad fork, harmlessly flirtatious after a few glasses of wine. It is easy to melt into his luxurious world, and fun to bring him into the world he funds, my dirty world of chamber pots and ceramic coffins. I'm not angry even at Norris's directive, although I already knew about dinner. I already have sketches to show Jerrold of official seals, basins, statuettes, and ivories, maps indicating where we'd found the three thousand infant burial jars. Norris knows I'm always prepared. We have been working here together for more than a decade. It is that the note is written on the back of the title page of my last book, an act obviously intended to upset me. The page had been crumpled in his most recent fit, and then, I suppose, he smoothed it out to use it as scratch paper. To let me know how little he thinks of it, or me.

It's not worth spending the most beautiful time of the day fuming over him. He's been playing these games for so many months I'm practically numb to them. When I step outside, closing the door softly behind me, my anger dissolves in the wet, clean, and shimmering air. I love the early morning. Pine trees cast long shadows across the road and clouds stained deep grape and plum are strewn messily over the horizon, as if someone hadn't yet cleaned up the table linens after a giant party.

It is a two-mile walk to the tell. Every working morning I take this walk, leaving my old white Mazda in the driveway like a beached baby beluga. The air is tinged with rosemary, mint, and diesel. I try to drink in the coolness as I walk, knowing the sun will soon sizzle it all to chalk. There is a mist of sparkles over my clothes and my skin. The little hairs on my arms have been alchemized by the sun to fine gold. My naturally pale skin is gilded by exposure, despite my devotion to applying and reapplying lotion. I feel lean and able striding up the road, my mind clear. I enjoy the long stride of my body every morning before settling into a day of crouching in dirt.

The Judean Hills lie languid over the horizon and birds are winging between the pines. There is a Bedouin woman pulling up herbs down a stony slope. She is swathed in a long black robe, chanting in Arabic:

Fear not if you wander the barley fields after there has been a good rain
And you find an old lover who was slain long ago has risen to meet you again.

I can see the museum at the bottom of the hill. I've been working in Megiddo for twelve years, in the heart of the Jezreel Valley in the north of Israel. Every year nearly four million tourists visit this very place. It is an extraordinary site. Megiddo is a hill that spans about fifteen acres, made up of thirty cities built one on top of the other over six millennia, beginning with the prepottery Neolithic period nine thousand years ago.

The wrestlings of my own heart should be overshadowed in this valley of death. At least thirty-four nations have battled in this place, with enormous slaughters. This is where Pharaoh Thutmose III fought the first battle known in recorded history anywhere in the world. The author of the Book of Revelation predicted that in the end of days, the battle between good and evil will ultimately take place here. In fact, the word Armageddon is a corruption of the Hebrew phrase Har Megiddo, Mount of Megiddo.

Modern Israel is no stranger to conflict, and one doesn't have to dig to remember. Every weapon created has been wielded here, and the newest generations, biological and nuclear, hang like Damocles's sword over the young nation. To stay ahead, defense systems scurry to evolve from the technology of tunnels and walls. I've spent my career here underground with the ancients, without emerging much into today's headlines. I've been less interested in the political and religious conflict of any century and more interested in personal practice, mostly studying Middle Bronze Age mortuary practices.

In the past, countless have lived, thrived, and then bled here until they became bone. Today, millions come to visit, including historic visits; the first visit of a pope to Israel took place here in Megiddo. Two hundred professionals dig here every working day. Norris directs them all, and I supervise twenty archaeologists and volunteers concentrating on the temples of stratum XV and the elaborate shaft tombs.

But each morning, like this one, there is just me. The generations below me are silent, and the tour buses have not yet rumbled in. In the half light, the site is empty. I cross the museum parking lot and begin to climb the tell. The land is perfectly still and mute, guarding its deep treasures of seedlings, cemeteries, and secret gardens. When I dig my callused hands into the cool, predawn earth, I feel all of her richness tingle through my skin. Before dawn the land always seems to yield, hinting that, with just the right touch, everything dormant in her might awaken, push through its black chambers, and Ezekiel's field of bones would drink the moist sky.

I walk through the remains of Solomon's stables, the rows of dark cold arches. I imagine the din of whinnying and neighing echoing through the ancient hall. Sparse, thorny grasses and sharp foliage poke through the stones.

As I emerge from the maze of stables, the horizon wears a crown. The sun is just rising. I kneel beside my most recent project, the three thousand and seventy-second infant burial jar we've unearthed. I put down my knapsack and unroll my pack of tools: a small pickax, a toothbrush, variously sized paintbrushes, and fine dental tools. The jar is shaped like a womb, the corpse inside curled toward the entry. How disappointing for them to be delivered not by some messiah to life everlasting but by me, to a mention in my field notes. I begin to gently dust the rim of the jar, thinking.

It is hard for me to believe that I am thirty-nine years old. Looking at the swollen shape of the jar, I involuntarily draw my hand over my stomach. I used to wonder what it would be like to be round and full like that instead of empty, flat. To carry life inside me. I don't think about it much anymore. I have never gotten myself tested to see if I have the Lou Gehrig's gene like my father, like my grandfather. I tremble at the thought of bequeathing my fear to another, if not my child, then his or hers, a Damocles sword over all my generations. And at the same time...

I sigh. The sky that had sagged so sweetly, as if the Kingdom of Heaven's doormat was just within reach, is pinned back into place by a fiery thumbtack. I labor over the jar and its crumbled contents. "You would be, I'd estimate, three thousand years old today," I say. Some scholars have written that these are the remains of child sacrifices from an ancient cult. It's possible, I shrug to myself. Infant mortality rates were astronomically high. Still are in many places. "I don't know," I say out loud to no one. "Either way, you probably weren't going to make it to your three-thousandth birthday anyhow." I begin to hear the buzz of insects as the sun climbs, doing their jobs as well. Diggers are beginning to arrive. Soon my team will assemble and I'll direct them. I pull out my notebook and lean in close to the jar, sketching the details.

"The early bird gets the urn, eh?"

I sit back. Norris is standing over me, eclipsing the sun. I squint a little. He's smiling, so I smile back.

"Get my note?" he asks, tilting his head. I remember the crumpled page of my book tacked to the door and the plume of heat it fueled in me. I used to stew over his mockery for days. I wonder for a moment if the fact that I've started to become used to it, that I can recover so quickly, is a bad sign. A sign I've accepted abuse as the norm. It wasn't always this way.

Norris, my professor of Levantine archaeology at Columbia, had been a great supporter of my first book, Body of Water, Body of Air: Water and Theology in Ancient Israel. My second book, Up in Smoke, was based on my thesis, a study of cultic theology and connections between altars found in Israel, especially at Megiddo, and altars found throughout the Middle East, tracing borrowed cultic practices throughout the region. The new manuscript, Upon This Altar, was a follow-up to Up in Smoke. I did so much research, imprinting my eyes with microfilms of altars, that I began to see them everywhere. In the shape of my desk there was an altar. A baby's pram was an altar. The park bench. I developed a new philosophy, which I tried to expound in my introduction to the book, exploring the idea that when there were no more altars in space, there would always be altars in time. That there are moments, precious and sacred, when something intangible but terrible is slain, and we are born into a new light. When it happens, the moment could be called forgiveness, or mercy, or even love.

I was delirious with confidence. I was ecstatic for its release. I had written it in a trance. It was, in retrospect, probably just a crappy little book. But it was important to me. I couldn't wait to hear what my peers would think of my multidisciplinary approach.

As it turned out, no one thought very much of it. In fact, if anyone bothered to read the introduction, they didn't understand it, or didn't like it. One critic wrote, "One has to wonder what sort of incense burned on Brookstone's own altar when she wrote her prologue." But the worst criticism came from the one person I'd come to depend upon for unconditional support.

So sure was I that Norris would love my "altarism" philosophy that I denied his requests to read the early manuscript and made him wait until the book was actually published. The day a box full of books landed on our doorstep, I came home to find Norris holding up a copy, the veins rising to the surface of his scaly neck.

He said, "What the hell are you talking about? What do you think you are — some kind of New Age theologian? You going to start wandering around Jerusalem with the other lunatics? This is scholarship? This is a dozen years at Megiddo?"

Norris had never raised his voice to me, and only once had I heard him yelling on the phone at his ex-wife when he was in his bedroom with the door, for once, closed.

He continued in a mocking tone, reading from the introduction, "What does this even mean, 'When you encounter an altar in time, you slip into serenity, just one letter to the left of eternity'?"

I tried to explain, bewildered by his anger, "The difference between serenity and eternity is that the s becomes a t, and s is to the left of t in the alphabet."

"What, now we're playing word games? You expect people to figure that out? You expect people to care?"

Norris fumed at me, crumpling the torn cover of my book in his fist. That afternoon, I felt as though my father had died a second time. I knew that his anger had little to do with the book and instead was about what had happened between us a few weeks earlier working in the pit — that unfortunate kiss — something I'd rather bury and forget. That was six months ago, and since then I've been walking on eggshells.

I look up at Norris. When I first met him he was in his late forties, and today, over a dozen years later, he still looks like he is in his late forties. He is tall and ruddily attractive, his arms and legs sinewy and brown, his dark hair salted, skin weathered. He looks like a man who has had many adventures. I had originally perceived him as some kind of golden emissary, rising up from the sacred rubble of the Holy Land, full of wisdom. His first lecture dazzled me. It was not until later that I discovered the streaks in his hair and the bronze of his face were less the distinctions of heroism and more simply signs of sun damage, his face sun-dried and preserved, the corners of his brown eyes bouquets of tawny creases. He was attractive, an eloquent speaker, a fine supervisor, and oppressive to the people he loved best.

"Dinner at eight," I answer. "Saw the note. By the way, I saw chicken in the freezer. Jerrold always orders steak."

"I've known Jerrold a lot longer than you," he says, laughing lightly at me as if I am a child.

My head is down over my sketchbook but I can see Norris's boots still planted nearby. I know he's not leaving just yet, so I put the book aside and stretch out my legs. We need to get beyond this.

I ask him casually, "Will the photographs of the mosaic be ready?"

He squats down, his knees popping. "They should be finished today. Oldest known church in the world! Astounding!"

Norris's pride is well earned. I have been meaning to send digital pictures of the recently uncovered mosaic to Father Chuck Oren, my family's priest, with whom I've remained in touch. He will be electrified to see the circular pattern in the center depicting two fish mirroring one another, an ancient symbol for Jesus that predates the cross by at least a thousand years.

It should excite me too, but for some time now I've been longing for something deeper, something more alive. I became an archaeologist because I thought that in drawing cities and remains out of the dust, I could bring a small part of them back to life. I conjured up the spirits locked in the bones and beads of the people who dwelled in this land millennia ago. I believed I could rub lanterns and set the dream of them free. I have been digging through graves looking for proof that civilizations, people, and stories don't really ever die, but what I've learned, over and over, is that they always do. Maybe I have to step back from it all a little, the way one looks at a mosaic, to be able to see how all the brokenness actually fits together into a greater design.

"You know, people would give their right arm to do what you do," Norris feels the need to point out, "yet you seem disappointed. What did you think you would find" — he guffaws lightly — "a photo album?"

"Maybe," I say, twisting my lips to the side in thought. "Or a diary."

Norris now laughs heartily. Then he sits all the way down. He picks up my sketchbook and looks at my drawings. All at once, he is my professor again, whom I admired so much.

"There is an Ugaritic epic in which the virgin goddess Anat avenges her husband-brother's death by searching for his murderer, Mot, the god of death," he says. He glances from the sketchbook to the burial jar and back. "When she finds Mot, she chops him into little pieces, grinds him up, and spreads him over the fields like fertilizer."

"Huh," I say.

He glances at me, then back to the book, and goes on, encouraged, "It could be argued that death may be the debt we owe to the earth, ensuring the earth's fertility. Think about sacrifices offered to ensure a grain harvest."

"For dust you are and to dust you shall return," I say quietly, partly to Norris and partly to the 3000-year-old infant in the jar.

"Right, but the return is purposeful, no? The life of the child becomes the life of the wheat, fields and fields of it." He thinks for a moment. "Burial is a planting..."

A pretty idea, but I don't buy it. Still, I'm interested. And I'm curious, tentatively, about whether Norris is reaching out to me. "So she actually kills the god of death and her husband gets resurrected?"

"Alas," Norris sighs. "As the epic continues, with the death of death, Anat's husband-brother returns to life. But so does Mot. And the cycle continues" — he gestures toward the burial jar — "to this day."

I'm disappointed but not surprised. "So the god of death's own death is annulled by his death."

Norris reaches out and pats my head as if I'm a puppy. "Aw, poor Page. What is a goddess to do?" He stands up and twists his back hard. I hear his bones pop again. I look up at him and find no tenderness there. He shakes his head slowly and pouts in pretend pity. "Always on the losing end."

We spend the early evening straightening the house for Jerrold's visit. We all share in the rent, but Norris as the supervisor, having served this dig for almost thirty years, keeps the master suite. The Bograshovs have the second-largest room, with private bathroom as well. My bedroom is the smallest, but it has the nicest morning light, as it faces east. I can reach my hand out my window and pick tomatoes right from our garden and often do — ripe yellow, green, and red tomatoes. The bathroom down the hall is understood as mine, and for guests. It is a modest limestone house, windows arched in the classic Middle Eastern style. Orna is in her midtwenties, and the rest of us probably seem, in varying degrees, beyond the age bracket for house sharing, although it is not unusual in this region. Financially it has made sense. Norris still pays hefty spousal support to his wife in California. The Bograshovs are saving, dreaming of starting a family someday. And I have maintained my apartment in New York City, which I try to visit at least twice a year, when I return to lecture and to visit my mother and my closest friend, Jordanna. It sometimes seems foolish to keep it, that empty cube filled with furniture quietly waiting all year to be used: the empty bed and desk in the one tiny bedroom, small empty loveseat, breakfast table with the leaves folded down, cold two-burner stove in the wall kitchen. But I've always felt that to give it up would be to become untethered in the world, utterly rootless. I love when I return there and collapse into a chair, looking at the beveled ceiling and listening to footsteps cross the floor above me. Sometimes I wonder, however, if the opposite is true, if maintaining it all these years has prevented me from taking more risks and finding a real place to call home, rather than a rent-controlled barrenness.

Jerrold arrives in a herringbone suit and a thin black cashmere turtleneck underneath. His silver hair is shaped and gleaming over his head like poured metal, mustache slicked into place. His presence is of prosperity, his skin tight over his face and appropriately bronzed, teeth surprisingly white. He is worldly, sophisticated. Older than Norris, he walks into our home with shiny shoes and a silver-tipped cane, carrying two bottles of Côtes du Rhône. I have showered, pulled my hair back into a clip, and put on a simple black dress. We all look nice but clearly underfunded.

Orna brings out chicken and stewed zucchini, apricots, olives, and pine nuts over a mound of couscous.

"Tell me, Mikhail," Jerrold drawls while Norris dishes out the meal, "what is your specialty? I've heard rumor you are a garbage man!"

"Indeed," Mickey says in his heavy Russian accent, which somehow always makes it seem as if he is reciting something. "Everyone should spend at least a year collecting and sorting garbage. Yesterday's dinners, news clippings, and junk can tell you more about human behavior and consumption than anything else. From an archaeologist's perspective, garbage is the great chronicle of life."

"Well said! Good man," Jerrold says enthusiastically. "Let's open that wine and toast. A toast to garbage!"

Norris wrestles with the wine bottle between his knees. He says, lest Jerrold should really think Mickey is a garbage man, "When Mickey emigrated from Russia, he had multiple degrees." He huffs a little and manages to pull out the cork. "Physical anthropology, paleontology, linguistics, and chem. He spoke six languages, but not Hebrew, at the time. The only work he could find in his early years was as a garbage collector."

"I met him when I was a docent at the Diaspora museum," says Orna. She has Moroccan features and sapphire eyes. "He was an Aladdin's lamp in a heap of trash."

Mickey puts his arm around Orna and says, "I only needed one rub."

Orna blushes deeply and Jerrold laughs mightily, lifting his glass to Orna, adding, "And then all your wishes came true!" He continues, "A toast...but wait, Norris my boy, you have no wine. You must! It is a nineteen forty-two bottle!"

"Yes." Norris clears his throat a bit nervously. "None for me, thanks." He looks to me for the briefest moment, and Jerrold notices.

"Ah!" Jerrold exclaims. "There are stories in this house! I see, yes, I've always wondered, an old dog like yourself sharing a roof with one of your former students." He slaps the table. "You bastard! Of course you had to hire the prettiest one!"

I laugh. "Thanks, Mr. March."

Jerrold hands his glass to Norris and then pours himself another and says exuberantly, "To garbage! Because it is messy!"

Glasses clink and Norris says soberly, "Yes, well, Mickey speaks of garbage with exaggerated romanticism."

"But he's right!" says Jerrold. "Ah yes, trash, other people's trash, it is romantic! Lost sandals and scandals and partially burned candles...it's poetry, you see?"

After speaking about the mosaic, which is far more interesting than my shaft tombs, and after a few more glasses of wine, Jerrold rests his face in one of his big hands, leaning his elbow on the table and looking across at me. "And Page, yes, the thing about Page is that I've never met a human being who knows the Bible better than this one. How is it possible that a girl like you knows the Bible so well? What a shame if it is because they sent you to waste your youth in a nunnery."

Norris answers, a little clipped, "Ms. Brookstone studied Christian theology at Harvard Divinity."

"Yes." Jerrold nods. "I remember now." He looks deeply into my face, and I can see he's a little drunk. "All those blood-soaked texts, the Levitical sacrifices, the blood on the altars, the blood on the doorways, whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed..." With his fingers Jerrold picks up a chicken leg out of the bowl in the center of the table. He points it at me and says, "You sucked the marrow out of the Bible until there was nothing but bone."

"Something like that," I say. I can feel the wine warming me as well, can see it creeping over everyone. Only Norris remains rigid.

Mickey says, "Every night, she filled her bathtub with Bible stories the way Countess Bathory of Transylvania would fill her tub with the blood of virgins, to achieve eternal beauty, to live forever."

Orna slaps her husband playfully against the arm.

"It looks to me like it's working," Jerrold says, eyes absorbing my face.

"But I left Harvard," I say, "after I heard a lecture by Dr. Norris Anderson. I remember it so clearly. He said, 'Archaeology is the place where the precision of science and the intuitive certainty of faith intersect.' I was so impressed. I gave up my pursuit of a doctorate in divinity for a master's in archaeology."

Jerrold's eyes sparkle and dance. "You abandoned armchair philosophy to pursue the philosopher's stone. A noble one you are!"

Norris laughs. "Actually, the thing Ms. Brookstone wants desperately to find more than anything else at Megiddo is a diary."

"Adorable!" bursts Jerrold. "A diary! Now that would be something!" He extends his head over the table toward me, closes his eyes for a moment, and breathes, as if inhaling perfume. "Now, I'll bet you kept a diary when you were a girl."

"No," I say, "but there was this time when our family's pastor, Father Chuck, got so angry at me."

"Yes, tell me," Jerrold croons. "I'd love to know where this leads."

"He had told us the Noah story, that a man could build a boat to fit all those animals, and I just couldn't believe it, so I said so."

Orna says, "Always challenging things, even as a child!"

"Father Chuck turned to me and smiled like a prizefighter stepping into a ring. He took his chair and brought it to the other side of my desk and sat down. He put his elbows on my desk, right on top of my illustrated children's Bible. He was very young for a priest, and he stared straight into me, as if there weren't fifteen other students in the room."

"Indeed, I'm sure." Jerrold nods vigorously.

"He said, 'Thousands of years from now, long after you and everyone you know are dead, someone will find the ruins of your house. They will pick through the rubble and sift through the sand. And you know what they will find?' "

"Trash!" Jerrold erupts. "Mountains and mountains of trash!"

"That's right," Mickey affirms, raising his glass.

I shook my head. " 'Two books,' he said. 'And in one there will be all our records — school records, medical records, dental records, criminal records, growth charts, degrees, honorable mentions...and in the other book, they will find a diary. A diary of all the dreams of all the people.' Father Chuck said, 'Imagine that every night everyone rose at midnight and recorded their dreams, and all those dreams were compiled into a book of fantasies, longings. The other book would be the cold facts, but this book would be the deep truth.' "

"The Bible is the diary of dreams," Orna says, mesmerized.

"I'm in love." Jerrold heaves a sigh. "Ask me for anything, Page. Even half the kingdom and I'll give it to you."

Norris is glowering. I feel suddenly a little sad for him. When he hired me to come to Megiddo, Norris had just finalized a bitter divorce. He had a daughter just a couple of years younger than I who lived with his ex-wife and refused to speak with him, even though it was his wife who had left him for another man. I had sensed that he thought of me like a daughter, someone he could mentor who'd appreciate him. I thought we comforted one another. I knew very little about his ex-wife or the divorce. Whenever the subject delicately surfaced, he would bat it away saying, "My ex-wife is a lunatic," or "She left me for crazy."

I say, "That first time I heard Norris speak, he reminded me of Father Chuck. They are both so fluent and persuasive."

At this, Norris laughs sharply, pushes his chair away from the table with a screech, and begins loudly clearing plates. "Yeah, me," he says while making a racket with the dishes, "a fuckin' priest. That's how she thinks of me."

After Jerrold leaves, Orna and Mickey insist on cleaning up. I fill up a canteen to put in the freezer for work tomorrow and Norris brushes past me and scowls. "Enjoy yourself tonight?" He walks out of the kitchen and Orna looks at me and lifts her hands as if to say, I don't know what his problem is.

I pass his suite on my way to my room, and the door, slightly open, makes me uncomfortable. We cannot go on living in the same house this way.Copyright © 2009 by Zoë Klein

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Reading Group Guide

Summary

When called upon by a young Arab couple to investigate a cistern that lies beneath their home, Page Brookstone discovers more than she bargained for. The couple believes the cistern is the reason that the spirits of two lovers keep appearing in their home, while Page's colleagues believe that the young couple are all but insane and that she should stay away. Page, however, takes the opportunity to investigate the site and discovers that, in fact, it is not a cistern, but a tomb. In it are the remains of an ancient Israelite, the prophet Jeremiah, buried alongside a woman who may have been his lover, and a set of scrolls that tell of their great love. In uncovering the mystery of a centuries-old romance that defies convention, Page could be onto the archaeological discovery of a lifetime. The findings also sets Page on a path of self-discovery, where she is forced to dig into long-buried issues from her own past, which along with a new and unexpected romance, reawaken her from the stupor in which she's been living. Author Zoe Klein, who is also the youngest female congregational rabbi in the United States, elegantly blends fact and fiction with two appealing love stories; however, the novel also engages powerful questions of identity, family, discovery, politics, and sexuality with originality and subtlety.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. The Barakats believe the ground beneath their house is haunted and claim to have seen spirits in their home. How does their faith contribute to this belief? Do you think that Page begins believing in ghosts and the paranormal as the book progresses? Who are the skeptics and who are the cynics of the novel?

2. Discuss the various aspects of faith as they relate to the novel. Do not limit yourself to strictly religious faith, but also discuss everyday matters of faith, i.e. the hope and belief that things will always work out for the best, etc.

3. What parts of the book made you reflect upon your own feelings and beliefs about religion? How do you feel about the religious restrictions placed on Page and Mortichai's relationship? What was your reaction to the destruction of the archaeological finds in the name of religion?

4. Water makes several appearances in the novel, from the cistern below the Barakats' home, to baths, to ritual cleansing. What is the symbolism of water throughout the book as it relates to worship and faith?

5. The author is a congregational rabbi, a position that has been traditionally held by men. How are traditional gender roles subverted in this story? What is Klein saying by giving Anatiya as much agency as she does? How would the story have been different if Jeremiah had written the scrolls instead?

6. The passages from the scrolls which appear at the beginning of each chapter tell of the love story between Jeremiah and Anatiya. How do those passages mirror what happens to the characters in each of those chapters?

7. Early in the book Page's friend points out the difference between a broken heart and a depressed heart. How would you describe the status of Page's heart at the beginning of the novel? Where is it at the end? How does her relationship with Mortichai change it?

8. Page is accused of being able to string together complex concepts, but of being unable to understand simple things such as love. How true do you think this is and why? How does her emotional growth progress throughout the novel?

9. The conventional definition of archaeology is the scientific study of historic or prehistoric people and their cultures. Beyond Page's search into the history of Jeremiah, what else is she searching for in her past as it relates to her family and relationships? What does she discover that she wasn't searching for?

10. Page has chosen a career that isolates her and places her within a small contained group of people. What is she avoiding? Do you see symbolism in her choice of a career in archaeology? Part of the process of archaeology is the constant search for things long hidden, things in the past that will help us better understand the present. What are the various characters searching for? Norris? Page? Itai? The Barakats? Who is more successful in finding what they seek, and why?

Tips for Enhancing Your Bookclub

Learn more about some of the themes addressed in this novel. Try reading one of the following books about the experience of Jews in the Middle East or stories that deal with displacement.

  • The Yacoubian Building, a Novel by Alaa Al Aswany
  • Out of Egypt by Andre Aciman
  • Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, a Novel by Gina Nahai
  • The House of Sand and Fog, a Novel by Andre Dubus III
  • The Septembers of Shiraz, a Novel by Dalia Sofer

Israel is known as the land of "milk and honey," so this is the perfect opportunity to bring a different type of food into your group the night you discuss Drawing in the Dust. Do some research on traditional Israeli food and prepare some special dishes to share with your group.

For any members of your group who are not familiar with the Jewish faith, do some research on some of the more traditional Jewish Holidays - Hanukah, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, and create some cards for members of your group that describe the holiday, the history of it, and the traditions of how they're celebrated. If you are able, try and make a visit to a local synagogue.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Fast-paced with a strong support cast, readers will dig the superb DRAWING IN THE DUST

    For Twelve years American archeologist Page Brookstone has dug at the biblical site Megiddo, Israel, but is bone weary. She knows she needs a change to rejuvenate her creative juices as the dig has become tedious to her in spite of Norris Anderson, who worked with her late legendary father.--------

    The car of an Arab couple Naima and Ibrahim breaks down near the dig. Page offers them tea inside her tent. They soon invite Page to investigate the two spirits who haunt the ruins under their home in Anatot near Jerusalem. Page's peers suggest it is unsafe, but she assumes they mean an American in an Arab neighborhood. She travels to the site where she and her team unearth an incredible biblical find. She soon realizes incredible is an under exaggeration as Page believes they have found the burial site of the prophet Jeremiah and his beloved Anatiya. Fascinatingly Anatiya has left her version of the times that matches up with the Book of Jeremiah. Soon the find leads to a major brouhaha while Page is attracted to Orthodox Jew Mortichai Master, who opposes the dig.--------

    Rabbi Klein's terrific thriller works for three prime reasons. First it is not another Brownian clone. Second the insightful look at how tedious and methodical a biblical dig is brings authenticity to the plot. Finally, Arabs like Naima and Ibrahim are intelligent highly educated people. Rabbi Klein shows respect and admiration of Israeli and Arab cultures. Fast-paced with a strong support cast, readers will dig the superb DRAWING IN THE DUST as the Prophet Jeremiah comes alive through his writings and that of the woman he loved Anatiya.-------

    Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Drawing in the Dust is a commanding and illuminating read told by a phenomenal new voice with an obvious old soul.

    Page Brookstrone has been searching her whole life, for the meaning of life, the meaning of her life. She has a terrible legacy she hopes she won't fulfill but is afraid non-the-less to realize it's truth. At a young age her father died after a battle with ALS so she now devotes her life to the dead, the long dead as an archeologist and as she searches in Israel for treasures hidden in it's dust she discovers something amazing, something life altering, something controversial and something heralding in her field. Now the true question is, what will she do. Will she go along with the status quo, or will she ford a new stream and take a stand.
    Zoe is an astonishing storyteller as she spellbinds you from the first page and keeps you there until the novel is finished. Her plot is an always interesting subject for me as I love ancient history and archeology and adore stories of powerful women. Her dialogue is prose like in it's flow, exact enough for a textbook when she goes into her science speak and scholarly in her theology. She will paint pictures in your mind of her scenes that will leave you breathless in their graphic depictions. She gives us amazingly diverse characters that will leave you in awe, some you will grow to love and some you will learn to despise. Her champion Page is a multilevel character who is tenacious in her chosen field and yet is vulnerable and immature in her own person. As we watch her grow through the tale we gain more respect for her and begin to understand what makes her tick. Her male protagonist is a most unlikely hero and at your first meeting you'll think him just another minor figure in the book so he I will let you figure out. She has also a co-heroine and hero in the novel, but I'll let you discover them on your own as well. This is a love story, but not a romance and her portrayal will offend no one.
    If you love historic fiction, literary fiction, women's fiction or theological fiction then you won't be sorry you chose this read, actually anyone who reads this will be pleased they did. I personally love stories depicting capable and even forceful women especially in historic settings where we were little more than livestock to men. This is a definite must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2009

    Intense and Romantic

    This book has so much going for it. The setting in Israel is really vivid and the archaeological dig (which happens in someone's house!) is really fascinating. It's obvious that the author (who also happens to be a rabbi) really knows what she is talking about. I also loved the romance between the protagonist, who is a Christian from America, and the Jewish Orthodox scholar. The book reminds me a bit of People of the Book and it also has elements of The Red Tent. Highly enjoyable and thought-provoking!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2013

    Not what it appears

    If you are a Christian I do not recommend this book. The language is offensive, and the main character is promiscuous. When I first read the sample I expected this to, ultimately, be about the woman that Jesus saved from stoning. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I was very disappointed when I began reading and realized that, not only was the language offensive, the main character (while being put forth as a Christian woman) was sleeping around, chasing ghosts, and dropping as many bombs as the secondary characters. This book is nothing like the sample portrays. It was a waste of money, and I didn't even make it all the way through before I chose to delete it.

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  • Posted September 18, 2011

    serenity

    This book is a cannot put down read, you learn quite a bit about the dig's in Israel and the people, Rabbi Klein writes in the most peaceful way, you fall in love with the people of different faiths & heritige. You become part of the book, you are @ the dig, she write's so visiual, you will want to get on a plane to Israel. You get excited over each find. Do not miss one of the great book's of our time.

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  • Posted August 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very Highly Recommended!

    This was the featured read last fall on the B&N General Fiction Book Club, but I just finally got around to buying and reading Drawing in the Dust, by Zoe Klein.
    The story was riveting as you followed the heroine through her search for the treasure hidden in an previously undiscovered archeological site that she "stumbles" upon through an interesting series of events.
    What makes the book EVEN MORE riveting is the attention to detail that Zoe gives to the story of the Prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament and how she draws the story of this tragic prophet into and inter-weaves Jeremiah's story with the story of the excavation of her site.
    The "quoted" text of the Scroll of another prophetess, Anatiya, that is referenced through out the book is written brilliantly. The text of this "Scroll of Anatiya" is so close to the style and rhythm of the voice of Jeremiah, that you begin to wonder whether or not there is actually another unpublished scroll out there that has been unearthed and never been released to public review.
    I highly recommend this book to any student of the Old Testament, to any romantic at heart, to any mystery buff, and to any person who loves a great read.
    For those who are looking for a book that is good enough to demand a re-read.....you have found one here. I am going to have to re-read this one again --- slower this time --- that way I can slowly absorb each innuendo and phrase of the story, as well as each melodic turn of phrase of the poetry quoted from the "Scroll of Anatiya". BTW, you can also purchase the Scroll of Anatiya, as a separate book, a complete work, unto itself.

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  • Posted July 20, 2010

    This book actually made me want to further study religion so that I would better understand the characters. I actually did some research on Jeremiah. There was something "Jobian" about him since he is a tragic figure.

    The book surprised me because I didn't expect the story to unfold as it did since it was written by a Rabbi. Rabbi Zoe Klein is apparently an open minded, modern Rabbi who portrays and develops her characters with an honesty I would have expected more from a secular author. It is a book about discovery, archeological, religious and personal. It is a book about love with all of its ramifications. I liked it especially because of its unexpected turn of events. We follow the main character as she ...more The book surprised me because I didn't expect the story to unfold as it did since it was written by a Rabbi. Rabbi Zoe Klein is apparently an open minded, modern Rabbi who portrays and develops her characters with an honesty I would have expected more from a secular author. It is a book about discovery, archeological, religious and personal. It is a book about love with all of its ramifications. I liked it especially because of its unexpected turn of events. We follow the main character as she peels back the layers of history and her own past and do not want to stop turning the pages.
    The book is also an interesting take on the discoveries out there, still waiting to be found. As the story unfolds, we are witnesses to a monumental archeological find which has the power to change the world, but forces, outside archeology, conspire to keep it hidden.
    We learn that bridges can be crossed by some, fences can be mended and perhaps a greater understanding of all people can be achieved. It will take time and patience and open minds but there can be happy endings and perhaps "love can conquer all".

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2010

    You won't want to put this book down

    This book is gripping right from the first page. I saw it in the bookstore and wrote it down to buy for when I'd finished my present book - I lasted 2 days before I was back buying it and I never did finish my other book!
    It is such a great mix of different genres and it keeps you hooked the entire time you're reading it.
    Loved the book and can't wait for her to write another one.

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  • Posted November 21, 2009

    A Great Read!

    Drawing in the Dust is a wonderful combination of archaeological interest, discussion of religion & history, current events, mystery and romance. The book's plot was fast paced and kept my interest while still being intellectually stimulating. I look forward to reading Zoe Klein's next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2009

    I read the book jacket and was captivated...

    I had originally walked away from this one, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. From the very beginning I was drawn into Page's life and her need to help the Barakats. Anatiya's story and the lyrical flavor of Klein's words were simply enchanting. I felt like I was digging alongside Page as she discovers the cistern and is captivated by Anatiya and Jeremiah. What a wonderful surprise this story was!

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The most beautiful writing...you cannot live on this earth without reading this book.

    There really are no words to describe the gorgeous juicy writing of Drawing in the Dust. I was there in the cistern with Page. I could see and feel the dust. I read it slooooowwlly, to savor every beautifully crafted sentence. I felt drenched in the descriptions. For five days I lived in this book. The "Scroll of Anatiya" descibes a deep love that if any of us experience in our lifetime, we will know we have been blessed with a true 'Rumi and Shams' experience. I thank the author for bringing her writing to us.

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  • Posted May 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A let down

    I read an advanced copy and I thought the book had a lot of potential. The ghost story being set in Israel is what appealed to me, however the characters were not believable. I felt the main character did not act as a grown woman would- she was a permanent child. The dialogue was a bit pretentious at times, it seemed like Klein was trying too hard. There were a few great one liners, but I wouldn't tell people to waste their time reading this debut.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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