Ottawa writer Gabriella Goliger’s third book, Eva Salomon’s War, transports us to Palestine in the time leading up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War using a blend of factual historical detail and fictional characters and incidents. We follow the emotional journey of a spirited young woman, Eva Salomon, who pays a price for following her heart in a politically charged place and time. The novel has personal resonance for Goliger.
“The novel is indeed loosely based on the experiences of one of my aunts, my mother’s younger sister, Gretl,” says Goliger. “She too went to Palestine in the 1930s (fleeing Germany) and had a relationship with a British policeman. And she too eventually got beat up for consorting with the enemy, probably by members of a dissenting faction of ultra-nationalists within the Zionist movement.”
The real life people were launching pads and the book was written based on research infused with plenty of imagination.
Goliger wondered what would inspire a German refugee to British-occupied Palestine circa 1937 to take up with a British policeman and the wider implications of the story. She noted that the real life people were launching pads and the book was written based on research infused with plenty of imagination.
“I hope I created a convincing picture of a time and delivered some emotional truths,” she says.
The extensive research included several trips to Israel as well as a week in Oxford, England at the archives of the Palestine Police. Goliger read lots of history books, published diaries and memoirs, and issues of the Palestine Post from that time.
“I also studied many photographs from the era too, to pick up details and to help imagine myself in that time and place,” says Goliger.
Each page of this book is filled with rich details that lend authenticity to the tale, and is enhanced by convincing dialogue and engaging poetic flourishes. Classical music features prominently, and is a common thread that binds Eva with her beloved British beau, Duncan.
Each page of this book is filled with rich details that lend authenticity to the tale, and is enhanced by convincing dialogue and engaging poetic flourishes.
The story is told from Eva’s perspective. At sixteen, Eva leaves Nazi Germany for Palestine with her stern orthodox father, but after arriving soon runs away to forge her own path. Residing first in in Tel Aviv and later in Jerusalem, she struggles with enormous resourcefulness and courage to make a life for herself.
The secondary characters, including Eva’s roommate, her sister and brother-in-law, and her boyfriend Duncan, add to the portrait of a complex time and place, as political tensions begin to escalate, and violence and chaos erupt in Palestine.
This complexity is especially well illustrated in Duncan, who represents the British occupying forces that attempt to keep law and order in Palestine and a lid on the conflicts between the Jewish people looking for a new homeland and the local Arab population. Duncan’s growing disenchantment with the Jewish cause puts him at odds with Eva and the two inevitably drift apart as conflicts in Palestine increase. The result of this multi-faceted narrative is an historical kaleidoscope that is surprisingly relevant sixty odd years later.
I am a better person for having read this book because I learned about a time, place and culture I knew so little of. I recommend it to anyone who is curious about this era and who loves a good page turner.
Goliger’s first book, a collection of short stories, won the Upper Canada 2001 Writer’s Craft Award. She was given the City of Ottawa 2011 Literary Award for Fiction for her second effort, the novel Girl Unwrapped. Other awards she has won include co-winner of the 1997 Journey Prize for short fiction, and the Prism International Award in 1993.