Click here to read reviewer Karyn Johnson's take on A Woman in Jerusalem.
After a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, a woman’s body is found (with no identification other than the pay stub clutched in her hand), apparently an employee of a local bakery. Learning of the problem through a newspaper article, the elderly owner of the bakery worries about the company’s reputation under the circumstances, as well as his own imminent demise and God’s judgment of his final days.
The bakery owner directs his resource manager to drop everything immediately, pursue every lead and determine the woman’s name and her status within the company so that the relatives can be notified and the arrangements made.
Recently divorced, the manager is wrapped in the minutiae of his own everyday concerns - the rigors of his job, maintaining a strict visitation schedule with his daughter, and somehow filling the lonely hours of the endless nights. Although only in his forties, this conscientious man has the demeanor of one of more mature years.
The owner informs the manager of the embarrassing newspaper article; to avoid further embarrassment in the public’s perception, the errand is given top priority: “At a time when pedestrians were routinely exploding in the streets, troubled consciences turned up in the oddest places.”
The resource manager discovers that the woman, Yulia Ragayev, was a Tatar, come to Jerusalem with her lover who later returned home. At home in her new country, Yulia remained. A foreign engineer, Yulia had been working as a cleaning woman and was somewhat ambiguously released by her immediate supervisor, but not officially terminated.
The resource manager’s task becomes fraught with difficulties, the delicate nature of Yulia’s disposition of primary importance to the owner. Most significant is the resolution of any legal issues regarding returning the body for burial in her native land.
Caught in a conundrum not of his making, the manager empathizes with the mysterious woman. Imagining her life in Jerusalem, he is soon emotionally involved and half in love with Yulia Ragayev, impressed by her bravery and perseverance. To further complicate his immediate problems, Yulia’s twelve-year-old son insists his grandmother be notified and brought from a distant village for the burial.
This simple resource manager undertakes a journey that opens his heart to the world. On a mission to set to rights an unfortunate situation, his heart and spirit expand with each mile closer to her homeland, experiencing a renaissance of the spirit, eagerly embracing Yulia’s culture and those he meets along the way.
This is a man in the throes of a deep spiritual awakening. The author beautifully renders a humanity that transcends culture and ritual, the distinctly personal engagement of a lonely man and the woman in his care, no obstacle too great in a quest for the fulfillment of a promise.