Just finished reading the gorgeously written Wandering Star. It was easy to forget that this book was written by a sixty-something French man, as the young Jewish and Arab women were so well portrayed.
The title refers to Esther, whose name means star in Hebrew. The novel follows her and her mother, Elizabeth, as they wander in exile. When the story begins, they are living with Esther’s father in St. Martin, a French town occupied by Italian soldiers. These men, from just over the border, are in control of the village, but the real enemy, the German Gestapo, has not arrived yet.
Esther’s friend, Gasparini tells her, “if the Germans come here, they’ll kill all the Jews.”Esther hides her identity behind a French name, Helene, and has false papers, but she and the other Jews in the village live in fear. Knowing that her future is uncertain, Esther is especially appreciative of the world around her – the sun on her bare skin, the taste of a wheat kernel, the coolness of the water as she dives into the gorge. Meanwhile, she and her family dream of Israel, a land promised to the Jews, where they will be free and safe.
When the Germans finally do come, Esther and her mother flee to Italy and then to Israel, where they witness the raising of the Israeli flag for the first time. Of course, they encounter many complications on the way. On the road to Jerusalem, Esther crosses paths with Nejma, a 16-year-old girl who has been driven from her home. Esther and the Arab girl experience a moment of empathy, though they are supposedly enemies. They exchange names then go their separate ways in search of home and safety.
Nejma winds up in Nour Chams Camp. She and her fellow refugees wait for the United Nations truck bearing food and medicine that never comes. The camp becomes infested with disease and Nejma must flee again in order to save her life.
Although the lives of these young women are filled with suffering, this novel is infused with hope. As one character points out after the birth of a child, “the most beautiful thing can appear in the most vile place, among the refuse.”
Seamlessly translated by C. Dickson, Wandering Star is both a coming-of-age story and a powerful tale of survival. For readers hoping to better understand the world we live in, this book also helps shed light on current events in the Middle East.