What an extraordinary novel this is. It is the story of four generations of women: Ilana, Sashie (Shirley), Mara and Nomi (Naomi) and told from each of their differing points of view.
The saga begins with the birth of Ilana in a remote, unnamed eastern European village. Snow-covered for most of the year, there is little colour there and life for most consists of hard work and poverty. However, magic and wonder also characterize this little place, as it is peopled by an eccentric cast of vibrant characters. Elements of all the old traditional tales are here: Ilana’s brother Ari, who, with his simple ways, downy coating of hair and taste for raw meat appears to be not entirely human, three idiosyncratic old crones, herbal remedies and potions, magic, luck and curses.
One day, while gathering mushrooms in the wood for her mother, Ilana meets one of the bandits who terrorize the village. In exchange for one of these mushrooms, he give her a wondrous multi-coloured stone egg. The city depicted inside sparks Ilana’s imagination, and soon she sets off to find her fortune in this dazzling metropolis. Little, however, does she know where her quest will take her……
There is so much to be garnered from this rich, absorbing novel, it is difficult to know where to begin. It deals with such grand themes as childhood, motherhood, family, culture and culture shock, genetic heritage, the nature of truth, coming to terms with one’s self and one’s identity and much, much more. One feels as if it is an epic, despite its moderate length, such is its scope both of time and human experience. There is truly a magical quality to this book – the prose is simple but lyrical and full of arresting images. Judy Budnitz is a very gifted writer and here she has created an absolute treasure, much like that sparkling egg, which you will, I’m sure, cherish for ever.