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Title: South African Journeys
Author: Gita Gordon
Publisher: Judaica Press
Gita Gordon’s fictitious tale of pre- and post-Holocaust migration of European Jews to South Africa is enthralling. An education in the nuances of how the Dark Continent’s Jewish population established itself, South African Journeys is filled with engaging characters, believable and familiar situations, and life lessons about the nobility of the Jewish spirit.
Several disparate lives converge as Jews who fled the Kishinev pogroms meet up with Yiddish-speaking mail-order brides (one of whom plays bait-and-switch), as well as emotionally scarred survivors of Hitler’s war against the Jews. Life circumstances and some shady characters present them all with a challenging array of betrayals and opportunities to advance in life. Characters in the book either practice integrity based on Torahdik values or abandon all decency. Their choices move the story along.
Each character is entirely believable. Heroes, heroines and villains speak realistic thoughts and make easily understandable choices. When an adolescent escapes a deadly ambush in his Russian town and flees to South Africa, we shudder with him when his first employer, an uncle and fellow Jew, manipulates the situation. Despite the teen’s agony at having lost everyone in his immediate family to brutal slaughter, his uncle places him in servitude in a remote town. The orphan overcomes the multifaceted horror by learning how to thrive with his Basuto clientele, dressed in colorful blankets.
As European Jewish females fleeing impending spinsterhood seek their fortunes in the colorful and baffling land of Tabletop Mountain with its many-hued ethnic groups, readers will groan over courtship’s familiarly awkward situations.
Searches for missing relatives, competitions for social prestige that backfire and the beautifully budding loves and accomplishments of quiet, determined men and women make for hypnotic reading. The author’s graceful transitions between time periods, people, places and situations give readers a vivid sense of witnessing the entire drama firsthand.
Many lives are affected by the religious Batya, the sweet-natured sole survivor of a warm, loving and principled family murdered by Nazis. Or is she perhaps not the sole survivor? Read the story to figure out the answer familiar to far too many Jews of the 20th and 21st centuries.
One of the subtleties of South African Journeys is the inevitability of consequences for the choices made by its characters. Those consequences depict justice served with beaming smiles for the brave and honest, comeuppances for the self-serving and superficial. The values of a Torah-based life subtly save more than a few characters in this book. As the story concludes with a resolution for every complication therein, readers will wish that real life could be written by Gita Gordon. This is a legend to be savored from beginning to end.