This reprint of Kadish's 1998 novel explores the delicate bonds of family and how to come to terms with the past. It's 1993, a tenuous time in Israel just after the Gulf War, and the Shachar family is starting to return to normal after spending time in a specially sealed room in their home to protect them from Iraqi Scud missile attacks. Tami is an emotionally needy housewife who feels disconnected from her glamorous mother, her husband, and her son, who serves in the Israeli Armed Forces and is often away from home.
Meanwhile, Tami's American cousin Maya arrives in Jerusalem from New York City to spend a semester abroad at Hebrew University. Emotionally distant from her activist mother, Maya sends home letters full of lies - letters that suggest a life full of travel and adventures - when in reality, Maya shares an apartment in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood with an abusive boyfriend who has a mysterious and troubled past. Soon, Maya begins to become acquainted with her downstairs neighbor, Shifra, a Holocaust survivor who is convinced that Maya is the savior who can free her from her tormented past.
While most of the novel focuses on Maya, Shifra lends her distinctive voice to the tale, her confused and jumbled memories pouring out of her psyche in melodious psalms. She is trapped somewhere between her pre-War life in Poland and her experiences in the camps. She confuses Maya, "The American," with her liberators who promised to make her whole again. That is her entire goal in the novel - to be made whole again - and while she expects Maya to redeem her past, it is Shifra who helps Maya come to terms with her own life.
Shifra, whose odd speech confuses Maya, leaves her small gifts from her past: a newspaper, an old photograph, a worn book of psalms, in an effort to tell Maya her story. It may be very little, but it's enough for Maya to eventually understand her, which gives Maya the courage to deal with her own problems.
Tami's voice is never heard, we only learn about her either through third person point of view or Maya's observations. However, eventually and predictably, all three women are able to break free from their emotional burdens - their psychological sealed rooms - and make some sense of their lives.
While this novel is almost too weighed down with events: family strife, religious tension, historical burden, violence, and redemption, it is written with extreme sensitivity and humanity. This book, too, is a literary snapshot of Jerusalem: its neighborhoods, its people, its religions, and its culture. While I felt that there were some weaknesses in From A Sealed Room, I enjoyed Kadish's lyrical prose. But despite its predictable conclusion and its busyness, it's a beautifully written novel and a fine read.