A colleague passed on this book to me at the Vienna AIDS Conference after she had finished it, only a little battered. It’s written by Marina Lewycka, the same author who wrote A short history of tractors in Ukrainian, which I never read but saw in the top ten stacks quite often when it came out.

This was a much easier read than Wolf Hall. I started it standing on the platform of the station waiting for the train to Vienna airport. I finished it waiting for my luggage to arrive at Brussels airport. Granted, my plane was two hours delayed, but that just made me even more grateful to have reading material that wasn’t on the pros and cons of male circumcision for preventing HIV transmission…

The story is of Georgie Sinclair who meets her batty old German Jewish neighbour Mrs Shapiro and gets wrapped up in her fight to save her house just as Georgie’s own marriage is falling apart.

The book is often a fascinating insight into a complicated cultural history and I was most absorbed in the parts where Mrs Shapiro’s history was being discovered. Lewycka dives into the decades long conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians in Israel – quite a brave attempt for what is for a lot of the rest of the book just slightly better written than most chic-lit. But she pulls it off quite well. And the jarring feel when she switches between those sections and the sections about her fling with a dark charming estate agent is only really as much as I often feel turning off the news of war, famine, violence, and carrying on with my daily life. You feel the one should have more impact on the other, but the reality is it rarely does.

So in short, this is a good book when you need a distraction from the fact your plane is even further delayed. It’s quite well written, often funny, many times very moving, and even a little educational.

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