‘Rue Des Rosiers’
by Rhea Tregebov
Published by Coteau Books
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$24.95 ISBN 9-781550-506990
Rue Des Rosiers by Vancouverite Rhea Tregebov is not just an exemplary novel, it's also an important book that examines anti-Semitism and empathetically puts faces on the victims and aggressors, and my hope is that the novel receives the major attention it warrants. In this richly-layered story, multi-genre author Tregebov introduces us to 1980s Toronto and Paris, and the life of 25-year-old Jewish protagonist Sarah - intelligent, questioning, and floundering - who feels the aftershocks of the generations-earlier Holocaust and suffers nightmares she can't explain.
This is also the story of Laila, who's come to Paris from war-battered Palestine with a man who lives for revenge against the Jews. Both Laila and Sarah are trying to ascertain their raison d'être, and attempting to learn - within very different circumstances - how one can live meaningfully in a world shadowed with fear, guilt, and expectation.
Tregebov wields an uncanny knack for expressing much - whether about an individual's emotional state or the sad truth about what some social workers feel re: their efficacy - in just a line or two. "He was all she saw," for example, is a phrase used with great effect.
Paris is exceptionally well-evoked; I felt I was exploring the lanes, patisseries, bridges, gardens, and metro stations right beside Sarah. She finds Luxembourg Gardens especially serene.
I believe Sarah when she's empathizing with Holocaust victims. I believe her when she's drunk with friends in Paris.I believe Sarah, also, when in the midst of unspeakable horror, she does something "unequivocally good." You will believe her - and Laila - too.