Hidden: Nistar
by Batya Casper
Author Reputation Press

"For weeks at a time, the sky remained gray, threatening, heavy with rain, planes and bombs."

Author Casper has created two novellas in one volume, linked by sentiment and constructed in complex skeins of familial connections. The first one is set in Israel in the 1960s. A little girl is growing up in a caring but dysfunctional family environment. Tikvah lives with grandparents Baruch and Pnina Lazamof. Yet, the reader knows from the outset that Baruch will die by plunging down the stairs after visiting a closed room where a mysterious occupant, Hannah, needs meals delivered outside her door on the upper floor. However, Hannah is never seen. Baruch's death follows that of Pnina, who had been the main caregiver for young Tikvah. Pnina was a spirited woman who had developed a love of the ocean and beaches of their country as an adventurous teen. It was she who told Tikvah about the faces in old family photographs and informed the curious child that her parents were "buried in the desert." Tikvah's life had been unusual but safe, sequestered in a small and dwindling village. Now, bereft of her caring grandparents, Tikvah seeks to find out who Hannah really is.

The second novella introduces Inda and Arthur, a strongly bonded couple caught up in the torments of World War II in England. As the conflict flares in 1939, Arthur locates several people on the continent desperately needing a safe refuge. Inda then has oversight of the strays that Arthur directs to their home—two children, Annie and Myra, and later, the Ungar sisters, Eva, and Miss Berliner. She also cares for her son, Billy, and daughter, Claire, as Arthur leaves for war. Inda and her crew experience war's horrors at home, especially the seemingly ceaseless bombing attacks in city after city, night after night. One of the most poignant moments in Casper's depiction of those years occurs when Arthur finally comes home, and his children strain to recognize this man with a limp, a man whom they have scarcely ever seen before.

Casper has experienced much of what she ties together in these two tales. Born in Scotland in the latter days of World War II, she was raised in England and then in Israel, from whence she became a teacher of Hebrew in other parts of the world. Now residing in the United States, she has worked as a director in theater. This background is overwhelmingly evident in the book. Indeed, the two stories share a dramatic, cinematic flair, with scenes set skillfully to catch the reader's attention and characters built slowly but steadily as they age through the subtleties of her well-considered, gradually unfolding plots. She has a fine ear for dialogue, including the lisping speech of one character and a multitude of slang expressions that bring humor to some otherwise distressing situations. Her description of the news of the war's end in the second novella rings true, with music, laughter, and the unavoidable tears of loss. Both stories are told from several viewpoints, giving insight into the people so vividly portrayed. Casper's work should reach an intelligent audience who appreciate a strong storyline laced with concern for larger issues, such as war, peace, prejudice, and personality development in times of crisis.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home