Short Stories Challenge – Sister Hills by Nathan Englander from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

Published December 1, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s Sister Hills all about?:

“Sister Hills” chronicles the history of Israel’s settlements from the eve of the Yom Kippur War through the present, a political fable constructed around the tale of two mothers who strike a terrible bargain to save a child.

What did I think?:

This is the second story in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank and slightly longer than the previous title story. It tells the tale of two Jewish families, founders of a small settlement in Israel on a set of sister hills that they lay claim to and seek to defend at any cost. It is told in a number of different sections over a period of time from 1973 to 2011, where we see the matriarchs of the two families, Rena and Yehudit make a bargain between themselves to save a sickly child. Yehudit believes that by selling her daughter to Rena, she will be able to save her from a deathly fever as Death himself will lose interest in her. The only thing she asks is that she is allowed to raise the girl to adulthood herself to save Rena the trouble, although through the bargain she has ceased to be her mother. Moving forward many years, Rena has lost all of her sons and her husband through the war, and lays claim to Yehudit’s daughter as her own, reminding her neighbour of the agreement that was made many years ago.

This was a really interesting story that in my opinion still packs as much of a punch as the title story and is probably my favourite so far. Unfortunately I am slightly ignorant of the Jewish faith and customs and don’t know as much as I would like to, so a few traditions went completely over my head. However, I am always eager to learn and it has inspired me to read more into it, or ask a Jewish friend! I loved that the story was built over a period of years in comparison to the growth of the settlement and I felt the immense strength of the female characters as the men went off to fight for their land. The tension in the story increased considerably when Rena tries to claim back the daughter she has bought. The settlement has grown since the early years when she was one of the founders, and lives quite an isolated existence away from the rest of the town and I really felt her loneliness and despair at the loss of her family. I’m not going to give away what happens but I thought the ending was fantastic and really cemented Rena’s character as true through her entire life.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Countless Stones by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

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