Hester Among the Ruins, by Binnie Kirshenbaum is a thought provoking novel. Kirshenbaum’s writing is filled with insight and depth, and she approaches love, and what defines it, be it lust, intimacy, truth, betrayal, forgiveness, imagination, denial and historical legacy. All of the above attributes are explored in this beautiful and heartfelt novel.
Kirshenbaum brings us two lovers, Peter Falk, a German Professor (who has some clouded-over concepts and ideals, and can not even bring himself to say the word ‘Jew’) and Hester Rosenfeld, an author (Jewish, but not practicing. She also has clouded-over concepts and ideals, and in a state of constant denial, who can not bring herself to forgive her parents for the ideals she feels they forced on her). Each one brings their history, their past and their truth, into their present, and their relationship, in this dark, and sometimes comical novel.
Hester has traveled to Germany to do research, and her adviser is Peter. Once there a pattern emerges within their relationship, and an affair begins. The affair and other issues cause her to investigate Peter’s background. By doing that she forms a biography about his life.
Within the boundaries of her research, she begins to ponder her own German ancestry. Kirshenbaum is brilliant with word-images, and with defining Hester and her emotions, whether through comical episodes or serious ones.
What is truth for one person isn’t necessarily so for another. For me, the book was a well-written book, with wonderful word images, and with insight into human behavior, human acceptance, and also lack of acceptance in an intimate relationship. It makes the reader wonder about historical legacy, and what is acceptable in relationships when two people come from opposite ends of the history chain. I highly recommend Hester Among the Ruins, by Binnie Kirshenbaum to those who question history, acceptance and what defines truth and boundaries, in relationships.