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by Julia Dahl
Minotaur Books, May 2014
304 pages
ISBN: 1250043395

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this engrossing first novel, author Julia Dahl pulls the reader into the hidden world of Hasidic Jews. Their lives and secrets make up the invisible city of the title. At the start, a young reporter named Rebekah Roberts is assigned to cover the unfolding story of a womanís body found in a heap of garbage in a Brooklyn scrap yard. On a freezing night, Rebekah hovers on the outskirts of the investigation, trying to get someone to talk to her about the murder. She soon realizes that the owner of the yard is a Hasidic Jew, and this information has special meaning for her. Rebekahís mother was a member of this sect and briefly left it to search for a different life. During that time of questioning, her mother fell in love with Rebekahís Christian father, had a daughter, but then left and went back to her family. Rebekahís interest in pursuing this investigation is motivated by a desire to find out what happened to the victim, Rivka Mendelsohn, but also by her own need to discover what happened to her own mother.

Julia Dahl has good credentials to write about the world of the crime reporter, having been one herself. The details she provides about the moment-to-moment evolution of a reporterís story are illuminating. The secluded life of Hasidim is the other focus of this book, and the information we are given about this sect seems mostly grim. The author paints a picture of a community that is insular and where the women especially have little opportunity for freedom or choice in their lives. She also explains some of the history of the Hasidim, their desire to live apart to protect themselves from the horrors of anti-Semitism that Jews experienced during the holocaust, as well as at other times. Dahlís focus is on the ones who question, who want to know about the greater world. They are not looked upon kindly, and for a woman, leaving can mean being shunned and forbidden from seeing her children. The Hasidim want to follow their own ways and deal with problems inside the community, rather than going to the police. Rebekah finds that there has been a cover-up of what really happened to Rivka and of other crimes as well because of their desire for secrecy.

An important theme in this book is that of mothers and mothering. Rebekah has searched all her life for the mother who abandoned her. The Hasidic women seem to have no other choice but to dedicate their lives to being mothers. Rivka Mendelsohn had four living children, had recently lost an infant, and was pregnant at the time of her death. Her sister-in-law Miriam was unable to have children and this set her apart from the community. If a woman left the community, she would be labeled a bad mother.

Rebekah is a tough cookie, perhaps a bit too tough for a newly graduated journalist from Florida who is living in the big city and pursuing a journalism career for the first time. She wades into situations that are challenging, perhaps illegal, and definitely dangerous. She is surrounded by a supportive cast of characters whose presence in her life and in her work bode well for their appearance in future books. INVISIBLE CITY could very well be the first book in a series featuring this intrepid crime reporter. It has all the hallmarks for this, including a cliffhanger ending. If the author decides to continue in this way, she will find an eager audience.

ß Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, May 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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