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The Camel Trail Paperback – 3 Jan 2007
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Based on a true story of four generations, the action moves from the Middle East to Gibraltar, London and Lisbon. The title comes from a treasure - a teapot with a spout shaped like a camel's head. The narrative is in two interweaving strands: Anna's story from 1944 - 1976 and David's story starting in 1834. David Levy is orphaned in a disaster in Safed in 1837. Thirty years later he is in England hosting a society ball. His granddaughter Anna finds notebooks showing glimpses of a hundred years of family life, but behind the apparent calm lies a story of deception and betrayal. The novel is woven round the roots of the author's family.
From the Publisher
The Camel Trail won the World Gourmand Award for Best Food Literature book in the UK in 2007.See all Product description
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Judy Jackson has previously written mainly about food and food is a strong theme in the novel. Not only does each chapter begin with a recipe from its time and location (Lisbon, Gibraltar, London), but food is prominent in the narrative and artfully used to draw character or take us into period. Period research (culture, geography, buildings, technology) has clearly been thorough and the feel of the times is convincingly put across.
The story is told through the alternating voices of two chosen characters widely separated in time. The changes of viewpoint demand a certain alertness from the reader but the technique, which is skilfully achieved, gives the work a distinctive family hum. The mystery surrounding the family heirloom of the title gives the story a spin which keeps the pages turning. Judy Jackson must be congratulated on the way she has drawn inspiration from the dry records of imports and exports by her forbears and woven a rich, warm and long-breathed family story.
The book is some 400 pages long but it moves fast and keeps the readers attention to the end.
With our national obsession for delving into the lives of our ancestors, this book would appeal to a wide range of reader.
Despite the broad scope, it remains an intimate portrait of one family's history and daily life, the chapters interspersed with genuine recipes and household hints of the period.
Judy Jackson combines the exotic and the domestic in a most original, elegant and moving detective story.
Take a piece of Anna's plum cake (chapter 30)and a cup of special coffee (chapter 17), and settle down for a good read!
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The travelers are drawn from four generations of the Levy family, beginning with the immigrant children in 19th century Safed (the son David, in particular), and cascading on to David's great-granddaughter, Nina, who travels with her mother Anna to 20th century Safed in search of a buried piece of David's story.
I began The Camel Trail on a flight from New York to Tel Aviv. Assuming daytime clear weather, all the pins along the trail would have been visible from that flight. By morning (7 hours) London was directly below; then Lisbon and Gibraltar far to the south (8 hours); and finally Safed (11 hours), front and left pushed against the flank of the Golan. Pulling all the threads of the book together was harder work than the window view suggested.
The story keeps a deliberate, unhurried pace across the decades, grounded in the day-to-day rhythms of family life. The trail is sprinkled with excerpts from Levy family journals, mostly recipes - salt biscuits, sardinhas assadas, artichoke soup with croutons, pistachio cake - and assorted tips on household management ("...the hostess should possess a large amount of tact to put strangers on an easy footing."). The Camel Trail won the Gourmand Award as Best Food Literature Book in Great Britain last year (where Jackson is a well established food writer).
It is told in snapshots - forty chapters alternating among generations and centuries and continents. Embedded in these snapshots is a very interesting portrayal of the unobtrusive, sometimes insidious influence of one generation upon those who follow, and of some special Jewish forms of that influence. Anna observes that "an acceptance of unhappiness can be passed from one generation to the next."
First person dominates the early narrative, while the latter two generations are described in third person. Since the locus shuttles among half a dozen Levys whose style of narration varies less than their circumstances and outlook might suggest, it required effort to see all these separate threads, and to understand the connections among them. Glimpses of the geography outside the window helped in this task. A family tree might have helped more (and so eventually I made a simple version for myself).
David - Rachel
Dina - Joseph
Anna - Nathan
The name of this trail comes from a teapot spout shaped as a camel's head. It becomes a symbol of a secret buried in the earthquake rubble of Safed, which is uncovered in the story's final episode. The secret is kept for nearly 140 years to avoid dealing with difficult emotions. Keeping the secret from readers for four hundred pages seemed an unnecessary artifice. The suspense of waiting for the revelation didn't contribute to my understanding of or connection to these characters. On the contrary, a second reading done with full knowledge of the ending made for a much easier trip.
So prepare for The Camel Trail. Make a family tree. Put an atlas nearby. And, if you're inclined, don't hesitate to peek ahead at the mystery. Then ride the nuanced journey among the recipes with a watchful eye to Jackson's clear and surprising vision of how tightly the generations can be tied together without the characters noticing, and how certain of us have the strength to grow out of the limitations we inherit.