Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Invisible City by Julia Dahl

Julia Dahl's debut novel takes readers into one Invisible City, and her protagonist Rebekah Roberts, into two. While Rebekah and readers discover the Hasidic community of Borough Park in New York, she also discovers the hidden truths in her own life, her own  Invisible City.

Rebekah Roberts is a few years out of a college, working in the city of every journalist's dream, New York. She's a stringer for the New York Tribune, taking any job the newspaper gives her, a different assignment every day. But, the day she ends up at a scrap yard in Brooklyn is the day that takes her into an unfamiliar world. There's a woman's body in the hook of a crane, a body that turns out to be the wife of the owner of the scrap yard. That's not so odd. The husband is always the first suspect, right? In this case, the police don't push to take over the investigation. Rivka Mendelssohn's husband, Aron, owns the scrap yard. And, Aron is an Orthodox Jew. Rivka was to be buried as soon as possible, and the police had little interest in the death. The Borough Park Jews took care of their own situations, using a "neighborhood watch" group called Shomran. And, the police usually turned a blind eye, and let the Jews handle problems.

Rebekah is drawn to this story as she's never been drawn to another. In Hebrew, Rivka means Rebekah. Rebekah's own mother was from that area of New York City, a Jewish girl who fell in love with Rebekah's father, secretly meeting him, and running away together. And, six months after her daughter was born, Aviva Kagan disappeared back into her Jewish community in New York. Rebekah is an angry young woman, who grew from an angry girl. And, when a cop on the scene tells her he knew her mother and father, it throws her for a loop. The journalist is drawn to the Invisible City, the Orthodox Jewish world, as she searches for answers, not only to write a newspaper story, but to uncover her own family history. How did her mother live? What was her life like? "The hole my mother left in me never healed."

Julia Dahl's debut is an intriguing story in so many ways, not just as a mystery. The exploration of the hidden world of the Orthodox Jewish community and life is fascinating. Rebekah Roberts is an interesting character, not necessarily one easy to like. She is an angry, anxious young woman who doesn't take rejection well, but also doesn't deal well with affection or attention. However, she's a determined journalist who might make some dangerous mistakes as she looks for answers that too many people want to hide. And, Rivka Mendelssohn's death is just one secret in the community. As Rebekah realizes, when she says she's Jewish, in the end, she really didn't understand what that meant. To her, her mother's life, and the life of Rivka Mendelssohn, the murder victim, will continue to be hidden in an Invisible City.

Julia Dahl's website is

Invisible City by Julia Dahl. Minotaur Books. 2014. ISBN 9781250043399 (hardcover), 298p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

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