A Christian-Jewish Friendship Spans Decades in ‘Good Heart’
Good Heart By Alan Newman (Gefen Publishing House, 251 pp. $15.95)
Despite the clichés, often confusing continuity and a fictional narrative that too often morphs into historical exegesis, Good Heart, Alan Newman’s debut novel, is an engaging page-turner. It spans decades in the intertwined lives of two Indiana families, the Christian Langfords and the Jewish Baransons, their enduring friendship shaped by the tragedy of the Holocaust and the miracle of the State of Israel. Although the book traces three generations, the principal protagonists are Bobby Langford and Danny Baranson, whose idyllic Midwestern childhoods are impacted by Jewish history. Each boy is the inheritor of a parental tale of past darkness that informs their life choices and moral compasses.
Bobby’s father, John, told his family of the grief and horror he experienced as an American soldier entering Dachau and encountering “dead and dying people…everywhere.” Danny’s father, in turn, spoke of his uncle Stefan and his family who disappeared in Nazi-occupied Austria. Their fathers’ revelations create a bond between the two youngsters. As they grow up and follow separate paths, they nevertheless remain in touch and mutually protective.
The Holocaust may have informed their childhoods but the creation of the State of Israel adds a unique dimension to their adult lives. Danny, as a student at Indiana University, meets and marries Maya, the Israeli daughter of a soldier who fell on the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War. Bobby marries Andrea, a devout churchgoer. Christian commitment with a corresponding embrace of Zion will be woven indelibly through the tapestry of Bobby’s marriage. The two families continue to share each other’s joys and sorrows as the years pass and their children, in turn, enter into adulthood.
Danny’s son Yoni, named for his heroic grandfather, elects to join the Israel Defense Forces, and Newman describes the arduous experience of lone soldiers, culminating with a skirmish in Gaza in which Yoni is wounded. In distant Indiana, the Langfords worry about their friends’ son even as their daughter, Suzanne, excitedly prepares for her own visit to Israel.
When Yoni marries Orit, a beautiful Ethiopian, the relationship allows Newman to tell the story of Operation Solomon, the dramatic exodus of Jews from Ethiopia. And because Orit’s first home in Israel was at Yemin Orde, the youth village named for Orde Wingate, the Christian Zionist military hero, the author embarks on yet another history lesson. He adds a description of both the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which the British government supported a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, and the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret treaty between Britain and France for dismembering the Ottoman Empire. These pedagogic inserts slow the dramatic pace of the narrative yet add a valuable dimension to this agenda-driven story.
The sadness of Bobby Langford’s too-early death is mitigated by the joy felt when Suzanne, visiting Israel, meets with Yoni and his wife and tells them of her church’s support for Israel and their desire to fund the building of bomb shelters. The allegiances forged during an Indiana childhood are newly cemented in a Tel Aviv living room.
Gloria Goldreich’s newest novel is After Melanie (Severn House).