Jessamyn Hope’s Safekeeping is a profound and moving novel about love, loss, and the courage it takes to keep starting over.
It’s 1994 and Adam, a drug addict from New York City, arrives at Kibbutz Sadot Hadar with a medieval sapphire brooch. To redress a past crime, he must give the priceless family heirloom to a woman his grandfather loved when he was a Holocaust refugee on the kibbutz fifty years earlier. But first, he has to track this mystery woman down—a task that proves more complicated than expected.
On the kibbutz Adam joins other lost souls trying to turn their lives around: Ulya, the ambitious and beautiful Soviet émigrée; Farid, the lovelorn Palestinian farmhand; Claudette, the French Canadian Catholic with OCD; Ofir, the Israeli teenager wounded in a bus bombing; Eyal, the disillusioned kibbutz secretary; and Ziva, the old Socialist Zionist firebrand who founded the kibbutz. Driven together by the confines of the commune, by love and hate, by their irreconcilable dreams and a shared sense of insecurity, their fates become forever entangled as they each get one last shot at redemption.
In the middle of that fateful summer glows the magnificent brooch with its perilous history spanning three continents and seven centuries. With insight and beauty, Safekeeping tackles that most human of questions: How can we expect to find meaning and happiness when we know that nothing lasts?
Winner of the J.I. Segal Award/2016 Mona Elaine Adilman Award for Jewish Fiction on a Jewish Theme
Finalist for the 2016 Ribalow Prize
Finalist for the 2016 Paterson Fiction Prize
“A summer on a kibbutz; a disparate cast of characters torn by their own past lives and the inescapable burdens of history; a plot driven by a valuable gold brooch crafted by a master goldsmith in the Middle Ages: from these seemingly ordinary materials Jessamyn Hope has wrought something wonderful. I don’t mean simply that her plot is compelling, utterly lucid, and deeply resonant, which it is; or that her troubled characters are created with both deep compassion and clear-eyed skepticism, which they are; or even that she writes brilliantly, which she does. What’s most wonderful about Safekeeping is the author’s uncanny sense of how much of the world can be understood by keen attention to its smallest particulars, and how meaningfulness will multiply when you refuse to force upon the reader your own personal meanings. Like the exquisite gold brooch that shimmers emblematically at its center, Safekeeping seems to glow with a rich patina of timelessness, the sign of true art. Listen, do yourself a huge favor, read this book.”—Mark Dintenfass, author of Old World, New World and A Loving Place
“In Safekeeping, Jessamyn Hope explores the manifold contradictions of the people drawn to Israel as elegantly as the medieval jeweler who designed the heirloom brooch that dramatically catalyzes her plot. Both passionate and compassionate, the novel is a joy to read.”—Melvin Jules Bukiet, author of After: A Novel and editor of Nothing Makes You Free: Writings by Descendants of Jewish Holocaust Survivors
“There is no writer whose first novel I have awaited more eagerly than Jessamyn Hope, and Safekeeping surpasses my expectations. It’s a brilliant and captivating novel about the past, the present, and the future, about love and legacy, and it is written with Hope’s singular blend of intelligence, clarity, and grace. I am very happy it is finally here among us.”—Peter Cameron, author of Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You and Coral Glynn
“This globetrotting, century-hopping novel is extraordinary. Fearless and tender, Jessamyn Hope holds in her hands both the sweep of history and the intricacies of the human heart. Lives shaped by larger forces must still be lived, and with desire and fear, strength and frailty, the characters in Safekeeping movingly struggle towards transformation. These are people and a story that will stick with me.” —Caitlin Horrocks, author of This Is Not Your City
“With a sharp eye and a masterful hand, Jessamyn Hope brings to life the complex world of one Israeli kibbutz—from the troubled young volunteers to the new immigrant Russians to its old embattled Socialist founders—during a single sweltering Middle Eastern summer. Rich in history, lavish in its portrayal of place, and fueled by an exciting tale about a jewel that must be restored to its rightful owner, Safekeeping is a terrifically absorbing read by a writer who knows what she’s talking about. I was hooked from the first page.”—Joan Leegant, author of Wherever You Go and An Hour in Paradise
“In Safekeeping, Jessamyn Hope introduces an extraordinary cast of characters and by way of their desires and secrets weaves an intricate and moving portrait of humanity. Hope is an enormously skillful storyteller, providing great suspense while also creating the daily patterns of these memorable lives.”—Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life and Going Away Shoes
“I hadn’t read very far into Jessamyn Hope’s beautiful novel before I knew I was in the presence of a unique talent. Her voice is unlike anyone else’s, and she knows these characters inside out and has made them come alive in these gorgeously written pages. Safekeeping is cause for celebration. I admired every word of it.”—Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances and Safe from the Neighbors
Adam trudged up the darkening country road with a giant centipede stuck to his back, wiggling its army of legs. He could see to the top of the hill, where the road ended with the gate to the kibbutz. A rusted wrought-iron sign arched over the entrance, stamping the yellow sky in both Hebrew and Latin letters: SADOT HADAR. Fields of Splendor, his grandfather had taught him. The eucalyptuses towering along the left side of the road refreshed the air with their sweet, medicinal scent. To the right, horses grazed in a willowy meadow, and beyond them, a sliver of moon floated over the shadowed face of Mount Carmel. Was this what his grandfather saw when he first approached the kibbutz? Adam wiped his brow. He was sweat-soaked. His jaw ached from clamping his teeth, and his swollen feet felt fused to the insides of his sneakers. But it could’ve been worse. Last time he went cold turkey, the centipedes were crawling out of his mouth.
He reached the kibbutz’s guardhouse without the young soldier inside noticing him. Hunched over his desk, the soldier pored over handwritten sheet music.
Adam knocked next to the window. “Hey, hi. I’m here to volunteer.”
The soldier startled. “What?”
“Hi. Me. Volunteer.”
“I wasn’t told to expect a volunteer.”
Adam had heard anyone could volunteer. This soldier, this kid, better not turn him away. “I didn’t register ahead of time. I hope that’s okay. My grandfather—”
“Are you cold?”
The soldier looked him up and down. “It’s the end of April. Twenty-eight degrees. Why the jacket?”
“’Cause it’s not twenty-eight degrees or whatever that is in Fahrenheit in New York. I just got here.”
The lips at the end of the soldier’s long pimpled face pressed together. He sighed, put down his pencil. “Take it off.”
Adam did not appreciate being ordered about, especially from someone who didn’t look eighteen years old. The jacket had to stay on. He was clammy and shivering and taking it off might freak out the centipede hiding underneath. He wiped the sweat dripping into his eyes. “Seriously?”
The soldier pushed away from his desk and picked up his M-16, making Adam regret not doing whatever the hell the kid asked. The last thing he needed was to make a scene. He dropped his backpack and tore off his jacket while the soldier, rifle slung on his shoulder, stepped out of the booth, surprising Adam with his gangly height. Even with his poor posture, the kid was half a head taller than him, and almost as skinny, the green army uniform hanging off his bony shoulders and hips. Adam resisted the urge to hug himself, but he couldn’t stop his teeth from rattling. His cold, damp T-shirt clung to his skin, and the pungency of his own BO revolted him. He hadn’t showered in a week. At least.
The soldier pointed at his backpack on the ground. “Open it.”
Adam grabbed the backpack, unzipped it, and tried to hand it over.
“Just hold it open.”
The soldier dipped his lanky arm inside the bag and shuffled around the two balls of socks and one pair of boxer shorts. “You’re here to volunteer, and that’s all you’ve packed? Two socks? Where’s your toothbrush?”
The El Al security girl had confronted him with the same questions at JFK, moments before two other security personnel wearing radio earpieces appeared. As those guys silently led him from the spacious terminal through an unmarked door and into a small windowless side room, his heart thumped so hard he feared he was going to black out. To his relief they didn’t search his pockets or body cavities, only grilled him with a hundred questions about his lack of luggage and where he went to school and why was he was jackhammering his leg; they even asked if he believed in God and then why not. After surviving that interrogation, once he was up in the sky, out of the five boroughs for the first time, gazing out the oval window at the tiny glinting ocean waves far below, he figured he was safe, at least when it came to the police. But maybe that was wishful thinking. This was 1994, after all. Everything was so high-tech. What if the NYPD somehow identified him and transmitted a worldwide warrant for his arrest? He pictured his name and face streaming out of a million fax machines, and the centipede crept up the nape of his neck. The effort it took not to swat at it made him shudder.
“I travel light.”
“Did you come here straight from the airport?”
“Yeah, on the bus. Got off at the stop down the hill.”
“Give me your plane ticket. And passport.”
Adam pulled his documents out of his back pocket, thinking he had to keep cool. Not lose his head. This pimply Israeli soldier couldn’t know anything about Weisberg’s Gold and Diamonds on Forty-Seventh Street. If Mr. Weisberg was well enough to talk—and Adam hoped with all his heart that he was—he still didn’t know Adam’s real name. The no-frills family-run store didn’t seem to have a security camera, and even if it did, the picture on those black-and-white videos was too fuzzy to make out facial features, not to mention that everything happened in the back room; at most they had a tape of a blurry figure moseying in and out of the front shop, even saying, “Goodbye, Mrs. Weisberg!” All this soldier wanted to do, like the El Al guys at the airport, was make sure his lack of a toothbrush had nothing to do with “Allahu Akbar.”
After the soldier compared the ticket to the visa stamp, he turned to the passport’s picture, peering at the photo and up at Adam and back at the photo. Adam wished he still resembled the handsome guy in that picture, the guy girls likened to Johnny Depp when he was on 21 Jump Street. He still had the thick inky hair, but it was overgrown, shaggy, not artfully crafted into a messy pompadour. Dark circles surrounded the black eyes he inherited from his grandfather. His sharp cheekbones, straight nose, and thin lips were now too sharp, too thin, and his olive skin had a greenish cast. Most disgustingly, a few cavities had turned black. What he wouldn’t do to be washed and put together, like in that photo, taken only two years ago, when he was sixteen months clean and still a person somebody could love.
The soldier asked if he was Jewish.
“Socco . . .” The soldier struggled to read the last name. “That doesn’t sound Jewish.”
“Soccorso. You never heard of a pizza bagel? My mom was Jewish.”
“Was? She isn’t Jewish anymore?”
“I don’t know. Are you still Jewish when you’re dead?” It came out more aggressively than he intended. He had to sound nicer.
Instead of getting riled up, however, the soldier softened his voice. “Did your father convert?”
“Honestly, I never met him. I was brought up by my grandfather, my zayde. He was Jewish. He used to live on this kibbutz. After the war.”
“Really? Do you speak Hebrew?”
“Only the usual: schlep, putz, schmuck.”
This got no smile. The soldier said those words were Yiddish and took the passport back with him into the guardhouse, where he flipped on its ceiling lamp. Twilight smudged the world beyond the glow of the guardhouse, hiding the horses in the dusky fields, flattening the mountain to a black silhouette sprinkled with village lights. A blue and white banner tied to the kibbutz’s chain-wire fence fluttered in the breeze: a strong people makes peace.
The soldier opened an oversized logbook and skimmed through the pencilings on the last page. The logbook, with its battered leather cover, looked like it could have been here fifty years ago. They hadn’t gotten any fax about him. Adam wasn’t even sure the kibbutz had a fax machine.
The soldier paused before writing. “Did your grandfather really live on Sadot Hadar?”
“He did. For three years. He was a Holocaust refugee.”
The soldier proceeded to copy the information from Adam’s passport into the logbook. “I’m going to let you stay here tonight, but you should’ve signed up through the Kibbutz Volunteer Desk.”
Adam exhaled. “Thanks, man. Thanks so much.”
The soldier handed back his passport. “You can have room eighteen. I don’t have a key to give you, but nobody uses keys around here. To get to the foreign volunteers’ section, walk straight and make a right after the jasmine bushes. Tomorrow, see the kibbutz secretary, Eyal, about being a volunteer. If you don’t see Eyal first thing in the morning, you’re going to get kicked off the kibbutz, and I’m going to get in serious trouble.”
“First thing in the morning, I promise.” Adam hardly got the words out before the soldier was back to his music sheets, rubbing out a bar of notes as if he’d never been interrupted.
Adam zipped on his leather jacket and walked into the kibbutz. He followed the road, feeling uneasy in the quiet. This was unlike anywhere he’d ever been before. Dark feathery cedars loomed against a violet-blue sky. Fireflies flashed over a tenebrous sweep of lawn. Crickets chirred. As he passed the small, boxy white bungalows, he heard the modest lives inside: a running faucet, a woman’s raspy laugh, a TV chattering in Hebrew. His grandfather must have felt out of place his first night. Homesick. Homesick for Germany? That seemed impossible, and yet, as long as Adam could remember, a pencil drawing of a gaslit street in Dresden had hung in their apartment in New York. Their apartment. The thought of it stoked his nausea, and he cupped his stomach as if that could keep down the horror. Fearing he might throw up, he staggered alongside a high hedge dappled with small white flowers. Were these jasmine? Their cloying perfume didn’t help his nausea. When the hedge ended, he saw a wooden sign marked volunteers.
He descended some steppingstones into a sunken quad flanked by two long, single-story buildings. Lined with doors and covered in cracking white stucco, the buildings resembled the run-down highway motels in action movies where criminals and vigilantes always took refuge. Adam had holed up in a number of shabby hotels, but they’d all been in the city and had at least four shabby floors. In the center of the quad bloomed a solitary tree, its flowers still red in the dimming light. On a picnic table beside the tree, a half-full bottle of gin or vodka stood amid crushed beer cans, its clear liquid catching the moonlight.
A glance at the nearest doors—1 and 9—told him 18 was at the far end of the quad, meaning he would have to pass that bottle. He could do it. He’d made it through an eleven-hour flight without accepting one of those cute thimbles of free booze. But then the withdrawal hadn’t kicked in yet. Not like now, clawing at the back of his ribs, making him shudder like an old air conditioner. To be safe he would avoid the bottle by circling behind one of the buildings.
He walked around the right-hand building, down the narrow gravel alleyway between its back wall and a three-foot bank. The rear windows looked into spartan dorm rooms meant for two, similar to the ones at Lodmoor Rehab: a bed and dresser against each sidewall, gray wool blankets, a few makeshift decorations pasted to the walls, mostly pages ripped out of magazines.
He stopped. In the next window, a young woman stood naked before a full-length mirror. The window had no pane, no bug screen, only the open white blinds striping the scene. Her back was to him: a dark line dividing her round ass cheeks; two dimples at the base of her back; a lovely waist; shoulder-length hair dyed an unnatural Raggedy Ann red. The mirror revealed her front, the V-shaped thatch of brown hair nestled beneath a flat stomach, and her beautiful breasts. Sweetly buoyant, but with womanly heft. Nipples like the flushed cherry blossoms his zayde took him to see every spring at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
It was surprisingly hard to look away from a naked woman, even when he felt no arousal. And it wasn’t only her nakedness that arrested him, but the intensity with which she studied her reflection, her face stern, eyes exacting, like a general evaluating a battle plan. She turned to scrutinize her profile, and her lips pursed in disappointment, anger. She did have something of a schnoz, but that would’ve only made her more desirable to Adam if he were able to feel desire; he didn’t like perfect, always had a soft spot for nearly perfect. But it had been two months since he’d had a hard-on. Even longer since he last managed to get himself off in a porno booth on Eighth Avenue.
When the girl leaned close to the mirror to draw on eyeliner, he managed to tear his eyes away, but as he did, he caught sight of another woman in the room, curled on the bed beside the mirror, a mop of chestnut hair covering her eyes, a brown skirt tucked over her knees. Her mouth moved as if she were endlessly whispering while her hands fidgeted with . . . what? A silver crucifix hung off the side of the bed. It was a rosary. She was saying Hail Marys. What a strange picture these two women made together.
The naked girl’s head jerked toward the window. His heart leaped. Had he made a sound? Could she see him in the darkness beyond the blinds? If he walked, would the gravel’s crunch give him away? He couldn’t think, his head too foggy. He failed to move; only his mouth fell as the girl’s deep blue eyes, bordered in thick black kohl, landed on his. She turned her body to face him, standing tall, not covering herself up. Her stare was inscrutable. Was it anger? Playfulness? Power? All of the above? He wanted to tell her that he felt nothing, nothing lewd, that it was like viewing an old painting in the Met. While the other woman, seemingly unaware, continued working through her Rosary, the naked girl grabbed a hairbrush from her dresser and hurled it at the window.
Adam bolted. He beat it down the length of the building, listening for an outcry. All he heard was his panting and the crunching gravel as he threw one foot in front of the other. He ducked around the corner of the building and collapsed against the wall, panting for air. The veins at his temples thrummed, feeling like they might pop. He unzipped his jacket and clutched the T-shirt and skin over his heart, over the stabbing that he might have mistaken for a heart attack if he hadn’t been through withdrawal too many times. It was brutal, making a break for it while detoxing. And for the second time in twenty-four hours. Could that rush through the Diamond District really have been this morning? Traveling such a far distance warped his sense of time.
His breath returning to him, he leaned his head back on the wall. Above was an unfamiliar sky—black, star-ridden, bottomless. So that was the Milky Way: a band of stars streaked across the universe like a ghostly line of coke. It was frightening, this sky. He preferred the one back home: polluted and starless, all the twinkling on the ground. This sky made him feel like he had to be kidding, thinking anything people did mattered. Anything he did to anyone. But that wasn’t true. He must have looked like a Peeping Tom, there at her back window. Imagine coming all this way and getting kicked off after five minutes because of something so stupid. He had to be more careful. He couldn’t fuck this up. This was his last chance.
He peeked into the quad, praying the girl wasn’t standing there with the soldier or a boyfriend out to prove his worth. She wasn’t. Some young guys now sat around the picnic table, laughing and talking in what sounded like Russian. They didn’t seem to be on the lookout for anyone as they passed around that bottle.
Adam walked fast for room eighteen and knocked on the door. Afraid the girl might come out, he didn’t wait for an answer before turning the knob and slipping inside. Luckily, he didn’t appear to have a roommate. The beds were made. No personal belongings anywhere.
Leaving the lights off, he hung up his leather jacket and sat on a bed. He didn’t immediately lie down. He felt too guilty, like he didn’t deserve to lie down. Like he might never deserve to lie down for the rest of his life. Untying his blue high-tops for the first time in days, he gently freed his throbbing feet and lifted his legs onto the mattress. He slowly lay back onto the scratchy wool blanket. As his head lowered onto the pillow, it exhaled a detergenty smell. He stared at the closet door, where a Mikey Katz had scratched into the wood that he was here in ’82. Where was the centipede? It had crawled away, but his teeth still chattered if he didn’t clench them. Was it only the withdrawal making him shake, or also his conscience? He would know soon enough. Through the back window came an owl’s low-pitched hoot, repetitive like a car alarm, yet soothing.
If only it were two years ago, and he were lying in his bed on Essex, the city lights pouring through his second-floor window, blanching the Nirvana poster. The cast of old Star Wars figurines on his bookcase. The college textbooks neatly piled on his desk, the wooden desk that had belonged to his mother when she was young. Closing his eyes, he would be surrounded by all that comforting sound, people shouting on the sidewalk, the hum of the idling delivery trucks, the occasional ch-ch-cha of maracas when the door opened to the Mexican restaurant on the ground floor, and Zayde’s scratchy swing records playing in the next room: After you’ve gone and left me crying, after you’ve gone there’s no denying. Might Zayde, when he was only five years older than Adam was now, have slept in this very room? No, this building wasn’t old enough. And hadn’t he mentioned a tent?
Adam turned on his side, reached into his jean pocket, and pulled out the brooch. He’d had a glimpse at it in the airplane bathroom, but this was his first chance to take a good look since stealing it back. He tried to blur out his hands—the fingertips blackened on crack pipes, the nails packed with grime—and see only what they were holding, that one-and-a-half-inch square. Just a one-and-a-half-inch square. And yet.
The first time Adam saw the brooch he was eight years old. He’d awoken from a nightmare and was on his way to sleep with his grandfather, as he often did that first year he lived with him, when he was stopped in the doorway. He had expected to find the old man sleeping, but he lay awake in his green pajama set, canted on his side, as Adam was right now, studying something small in his hands, his eyes glistening in the lamplight. Adam tiptoed into the tidy bedroom, so different than his mother’s, where he’d had to navigate around dirty clothes and empty wine bottles to reach her passed-out body, half covered by a stained T-shirt.
His grandfather only noticed him when he climbed onto the foot of the mattress. “Another nightmare, Adam?”
Adam nestled behind his grandfather’s back and peered over him at the radiant square, like something from a fairy tale. “What’s that?”
“This?” His grandfather returned his gaze to the brooch. “This is . . . a very special thing.”
“What’s so special about it?”
His grandfather sat up, slipped on his plaid slippers.
“I’m afraid it’s not a story for little boys. But I promise to tell you one day.” He looked back at Adam, laid a hand on his shin. “Maybe when it becomes your brooch.”
In the dark dorm room, the brooch seemed to stare at Adam as much as he stared at it. An uncut sapphire, the size and shape of a Milk Dud, glowed in its center, so blue. Pearls and smaller gems, also in their natural shapes, hemmed the edges of the brooch—red rubies in the corners, and, halfway between, either a purple amethyst or green garnet. It was the rich gold filigree that stirred Adam, though, far more than the precious stones; in it, he sensed the long-dead goldsmith who had painstakingly fashioned the tangle of thin vines and little flowers that covered two of the brooch’s quarters, as well as the small pomegranates and leaves in the other two. Adam, having never seen a pomegranate and not entirely sure what they were, thought they looked like small round heads wearing those funny three-pronged jester hats, but the jeweler, Mr. Weisberg, had explained they were stylized pomegranates. He couldn’t bear to think of the jeweler, but didn’t he say one of the flowers was missing a petal? Adam brought the brooch closer to his eyes and searched for the one with only five. It took a moment, but there it was, in the bottom left. A little malformed flower. It was such a heartbreaking mistake. So tiny most people would never notice. But Mr. Weisberg had.
There was that ache again, that pressure against the back of his breastbone, so familiar, but more painful than ever before. He cupped his hands around the brooch and curled into a shivering ball.
He had no illusion that his zayde was up in heaven right now, watching him. The old man would never know that his grandson had come halfway around the world to set things right with his brooch.
But he had. He was here.
Share This:emailFacebookTwitterLinkedinGoogle+“I really loved it.” Part of librarian Gwen Glazer’s rave for Jessamyn Hope’s Safekeeping on an episode of the NYPL podcast, “The Librarian Is In” (if you’re in a hurry, you can listen in at the 6:50 mark).
“‘Safekeeping,’ a debut novel by Jessamyn Hope, offers a compelling example of how the lives of American Jews, no matter how alienated from their religion, retain roots that reach back into a past they can scarcely imagine.”
“Thanks to Hope’s readable and descriptive prose as well as her ability to develop the characters to an endearing depth…we get swept up in the saga of the brooch and the troubled souls gravitating around it.”
“One of the most assured debut novels in years, the book takes on a lot of challenges — structural, temporal and thematic — and meets them one by one. It’s a page-turner that satisfies all the cravings of escapist reading while meeting the real world head-on.”
Share This:emailFacebookTwitterLinkedinGoogle+“There are so many things to love about Jessamyn Hope’s debut novel, Safekeeping. There’s the beautiful writing, of course. There’s also the story itself, which is both unique and fascinating, and, though it spans generations, never feels too far removed to be relatable. There are the unreliable characters, who constantly make you seesaw between rooting […]
“An impressively written debut novel, ‘Safekeeping’ establishe[s] author Jessamyn Hope as [a] talented writer able to deftly craft a complex work of definitive originality that raptly holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end. Very strongly recommended for community library General Fiction collections….”
Share This:emailFacebookTwitterLinkedinGoogle+“Does the book help readers to understand the revolution that has rocked kibbutzim? Yes. Are the characters worthy of remembrance? Absolutely. Jessamyn Hope understands well the art of doling out the plot in small doses, reeling in the reader hoping for more revelations. She may be a first-time author, but she’s already a master […]
“Full of romance, tragedy, betrayal, and the constant reminder that chaos is a driving force in everyone’s story, ‘Safekeeping’ is a wise and memorable debut by a novelist of great talent and originality.”
“Safekeeping is a gorgeous debut, spanning seven centuries, that questions what it means to do, well, anything, if everything is temporary. This is an excellent emotional roller coaster ride.”
“A snapshot of a pivotal moment in the life of a community as well as a retrospective on the persecution of Jewish people throughout history, this emotional journey will leave readers with aching hearts and deepened empathy for the waifs and strays of our world.”
“Safekeeping is an immersive, impressive first novel. It opens with suspense, is filled with compelling characters, and its timeline opens and closes like an accordion. Who knew an accordion tune could come so close to sounding like a symphony?”
Read Jason Hess’s full review on NewPages.com.
“As Hope deftly juggles the various stories and backstories of her protagonists and the 600-year-old history of the sapphire brooch that Adam wishes to deliver to his grandfather’s mysterious lost love, the debut novelist, a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, weaves an intricate tapestry of love and longing, failure and redemption.”
Jessamyn Hope would be delighted to connect with your book group by phone, via Skype, or, if possible, in person. If your group has six or more participants, you may request that Jessamyn join your discussion of Safekeeping.
To sign up, please send Jessamyn an email with the words “Book Group” in the subject line. In the body of the email, please list the following:
1) the number of people in your group;
2) the phone number or Skype address at the location where your group will meet;
3) the city/state where the discussion will take place; and
4) three potential dates and times in order of preference when Jessamyn might join your discussion (please specify the time zone). She will do her best to honor your first choice. If your group is in the New York metropolitan area or Jessamyn is traveling to your city, she may be able to join your group in person.
Please plan to have your group discuss the book first, and afterwards Jessamyn will join your discussion for up to 30 minutes to answer your questions. (The times you propose should reflect when you would like the author to call in, rather than the gathering time for the group.)
Thank you for reading!
Here are some questions to kick off your group’s discussion of Safekeeping:
1) Safekeeping features a diverse cast of characters, varied not only in age, gender, religion, and ethnicity, but also in their personal ambitions, strengths, and weaknesses. Does anything unite them? Did you relate to some characters more than others?
2) Set on a kibbutz, Safekeeping explores the tension between personal identity and the experience of belonging to a community. How else is this tension explored in the novel? Do you experience this tension in your own life?
3) In literature an object can convey a theme or emotion. In Safekeeping, what does the brooch represent? The pomegranate? Are there any other evocative objects in the novel?
4) The title Safekeeping applies to more than the brooch. What else in the novel needed, and perhaps failed, to be kept safe? What do each of the characters want to protect?
5) Safekeeping highlights how people persevere despite terrible loss. How do the different characters react to hardship? Why is Adam less capable of coping than the others, seeking escape in drugs and alcohol? Can he be blamed for his weakness? What questions does the novel raise about willpower?
6) All the characters in Safekeeping are affected by the past—their own memories and the consequences of history. How do the characters differ in the ways they deal with the situations history has given them? Can we decide how much of the past we will allow to determine our future? Do you think what happened to your ancestors affects who you are today?
7) What is redemption? Are all the characters in Safekeeping seeking it? Do any of them achieve it? Is there a difference between redemption and fulfillment?
8) Some of the characters in Safekeeping are exiled from their homes; others want to protect the home they have; others dream of a better home elsewhere; and a few worry they no longer belong to any place. What do we mean when we call a place “home”? How much of a person’s sense of security and self is tied to place? Is the concept of home important to you?
9) Most of Safekeeping takes place over the summer of 1994, a precarious time for Israel. It was the beginning of Palestinian suicide bombings but also the height of the Peace Process. Elsewhere in the world the Iron Curtain had fallen, apartheid was ending in South Africa, and the United States economy was on an upswing. Many of the characters, especially young Ofir, are optimistic about the next century, confident it’s going to be so much better than the last one. How did you feel when reading Ofir’s optimism? Did you relate or find him naïve?
10) How did the ending of the novel make you feel? Did it end the way you expected? Do you think it realistically could have ended otherwise for any of the characters?