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Henna House    by Nomi Eve order for
Henna House
by Nomi Eve
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Henna House is a beautifully-written story of the Yemenite Jews, about whom we know so little, and also about the art and culture surrounding the use of henna. Used since ancient times to temporarily decorate the body, it was especially important in the celebration of weddings. During the Night of the Henna, a bride would be ornamented with complex patterns to show joy and wishes for luck in the coming marriage. Apparently, henna decoration was such a developed art form that not only could one find beautiful patterns, but even a kind of code in the design.

Adela is never allowed to attend henna sessions. Besides her mother's rejection, she must worry about her sick father. In her home village, it is the custom for Muslims to take orphans to serve as slaves, servants, or wives, and an official continues to lurk around her father's leather stall, ordering far too many shoes and ogling the young girl, who is clever enough to learn her father's trade and to read as well.

When the worst happens and both her parents die, an aunt and uncle offer Adela protection, and her cousin Hani is the one who initiates her into the mysteries of henna and who opens her eyes to the world outside, where changes cause the family to move to Aden. This is a huge adjustment for Adela. She marvels at the possibilities a big city has to offer. Indeed, she finds a way to continue her education, and over time she experiences both marriage and betrayal in quick order.

An important part of the history of the Yemenite Jews is that shortly after the partition of Palestine, the Arabs of Aden started persecuting the Jews, who became refugees in their own land. Many were saved by the Operation On Wings of Eagles, which flew thousands of people to the new state of Israel. This becomes part of Adela's fate as well, to leave behind all that she had already lost. Though at first, Adela seems to be just as displaced as the rest of her family, her inner fearlessness and strength help her to find herself and to come to terms with what has happened to her.

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