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Review of Leora Krieger's First The Raven - by Carolyn Howard-Johnson


First the Raven by Leora G. Krygier
AmErica House, Baltimore, Md. 2002
 ISBN:1591291666 Trade Paperback

10 Stars of 10





Authors of fiction rarely choose to tell a story because it is timely and that it especially true of fine literary fiction.  Somehow, First the Raven appears in print just when interest in its subject matter is high, precisely when its message is needed.


The characters in this lovely first novel by Leora G. Krygier are Israeli transplants on Los Angeles soil.  Their experiences in America are so germane to this moment in geopolitics it is difficult to imagine a more perfectly timed release.  It is as if this little volume was sent to us so that we might better understand not only the immigrant experience, but also that we might see Israeli divisions that we have never before observed—at least not up close and personal as this story presents them. 


The narrative centers on a journey of redemption for Amir that begins when he befriends Rosenberg, an elderly Holocaust survivor who he identifies with the Israeli politics that Amir was only too happy to leave behind.  Amir's relationship with a wife he loves is unraveling and his daughter is entangled with the kind of legal and moral morass that every parent fears the most.  Amir longs for the freedom he once felt as a parachuter, feels a vague disease with his new home, a longing for his old. 


Amir's new friend is also emotionally detached from his wife and his son.  The two strangers come together in a small restaurant in a Jewish section of Los Angeles only because it is so popular they must share a table.  In spite of Amir's reluctance to associate with the old Orthodox Jew, Amir slowly accommodates Rosenberg's loneliness and in so doing finds someone who has just the right connections and character to help him through the explosions that he must face in the days ahead.


In turn, Amir's virility, common sense and vulnerability combine to offer something the elderly Rabbi is not finding in his other relationships.  We see how differences can heal rather than divide, a very real lesson for today's world. 


Krygier tells this story with sensitivity and with a command of language not seen in many mainstream novels.  Consider this poetry in prose:


"(Amir) remembered his first jump, looking up into the fullness of the canopy, its lined geometry, the softness of its membrane.  The flapping fabric was gossamer-thin, like a wing..."


"....she flirted with him...with competence, as if she  were following her grandmother's recipes for yeast cake-just a little but not too much."


"Through the peephole...he could still see her, sitting on the step, round, through the fisheye, as if she were floating in an amniotic sac."


"It was an altered sky, cloudless and mute, tinted with faint paper-white strokes."


Part of the power of Krygier's passages may be credited to experience.  She was born in Tel-Aviv and grew up in Philadelphia.  She now lives in Los Angeles, and descriptions of that city ground the work; there is not a city street or a vista out of place.  Her experience as a referee in the juvenile division of the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles also gives her first-person insight into the system that young offenders must confront when they stray.


First the Raven is the kind of story that gives us something to take away with us once we have turned its last page.  It may or may not change a readers' perspective, but it certainly will give her comfort and confidence in the future.  It's hard to imagine that we could ask more. 




Carolyn Howard-Johnson's
This is the Place has won eight awards
and Harkening has won three.
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