Mandrakes from the Holy Land

Mandrakes from the Holy Land

by Aharon Megged
     
 

"In 1906, an idealistic, upper-class young Englishwoman leaves her home, social circle, and the thrill of belonging to London's intellectual elite, and arrives in Palestine to paint the flowers mentioned in the Old Testament. Beatrice Campbell-Bennett is also running away from an emotional entanglement with Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa Stephen. The novel unfolds…  See more details below

Overview

"In 1906, an idealistic, upper-class young Englishwoman leaves her home, social circle, and the thrill of belonging to London's intellectual elite, and arrives in Palestine to paint the flowers mentioned in the Old Testament. Beatrice Campbell-Bennett is also running away from an emotional entanglement with Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa Stephen. The novel unfolds through her journal and letters." Beatrice sets out insouciantly enough, galloping around the Holy Land, still under Ottoman rule, accompanied by Aziz, her lusty Arab dragoman. On horseback, in her flowing muslim dress, she's every bit the eccentric British colonial. But as she takes in the sites, traveling in search of biblical flowers, particularly mandrakes, Beatrice falls prey to the visionaries and pilgrims, dreamers and predators she meets. Her religious ecstasy clearly teeters on the psychotic as she becomes mired in the morass of the Holy Land ... until an act of brutality calls her entire future into question.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Israeli novelist Megged sets his historically rich epistolary and diary-based novel (after Foiglman) in turn-of-the-century Palestine, then mostly a backwater of small Arab villages and start-up Jewish farming settlements. In 1906, Englishwoman Beatrice Campbell-Bennett, a devout Christian and frustrated lesbian, travels to the Holy Land ostensibly to paint biblical flowers, but her true goal is to "purify" herself. The child of a prosperous but unhappy family, she fraternized with the famous Bloomsbury group of intellectuals, falling in love with Vanessa Stephen, Virginia Woolf's sister. In her quest to explore what she calls "this land of wonders," the fiercely independent Beatrice hires a young Arab guide named Aziz, with whom she develops an increasingly tense relationship. She also spends time with the famous Zionist pioneer Aaron Aaronsohn and his attractive younger sister, Sarah, until her conflicting emotions and ecstatic religiosity threaten to completely overwhelm her. Megged annotates the letters and diary entries with notes by a Dr. P.D. Morrison, a psychologist hired by Beatrice's parents to examine her mental state, and his rather hilarious Freudian commentary adds a sharp satirical edge. This, plus Megged's graceful use of biblical history and evocation of early Zionist culture makes for a learned, compelling book. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A young woman of means travels alone from England to Palestine circa 1906 to study flowers referenced in the Bible. Ill at ease on her wealthy parents' estate, Beatrice Campbell-Bennett, protagonist of this novel exploring the fine line between religious ecstasy and psychosis, arrives in Jaffa with her paints, sketchbook and a desire to purge herself of unrequited love for Vanessa Stephen, Virginia Woolf's older sister. Traveling on horseback, Beatrice makes her determined way across the burning, stone-and-ancient-ruins-littered Holy Land accompanied by her dragoman, Aziz, an Arab youth fluent in English who often mocks her Christian devotion. (He saves his venom for immigrating Jews.) As they progress, Beatrice identifies and sketches the rose of Jericho, the Sodom apple, the buckthorn, from which Christ's crown was made, and nard, an aromatic from the Song of Solomon, but not the mandrake, the flower Leah used to purchase a night with Jacob. And so they travel on. During their journey, much to Aziz's consternation, Beatrice meets and grows to admire several pilgrim Jews, whose religious rituals and vengeful God appeal to her longing for expiation. A brutal rape and its consequences bring Beatrice's sanity and future into question. Told only through Beatrice's letters home, her private journals, which at times seem to belie her correspondence, and the analytical notes of an initially skeptical psychiatrist who is sent by Beatrice's parents to find their daughter, the story treks through the vast historical conundrum that is Palestine, while at the same time revealing the motives of Beatrice. Megged (Foiglman, 2003, etc.), winner of the Koret and Israel prizes, adroitly addresses thedifficulty of finding truth among competing versions of the same story. At times as cruelly beautiful as Paul Bowles's godless prose, this Sphinx-like novel offers a striking portrait of the Middle East-past, present and, perhaps, future.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781592640577
Publisher:
Toby Press LLC, The
Publication date:
10/01/2005
Pages:
200
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x (h) x 0.90(d)

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