Synopses & Reviews
A first novel written by PEN Discovery Award Winner Risa Miller, Welcome to Heavenly Heights describes a group of American Jews who have left the United States, not just to move to Israel, but to live in a settlement on the West Bank. Miller conjures a culture and a movement--part religion, part pipe dream--viewed through the pinhole of one ragged apartment building's door: its families, their dinners, their weddings, their marriages, their sorrows. While bombs can be heard at the edges of these pages, it is inside the settlement, Heavenly Heights where Miller's delicate, understated prose limns the lives of these tender souls.
"Thoughtful, lovely language with the lightest touch . . . poetic, deeply affecting. An allusive, graceful novel."—Neil Gordon, The New York Times Book Review
"Remarkable prose . . . memorable portraits of people in sync with both the country they've left behind and the political reality of their new home."—The Washington Post Book World
"This novel pulses with acute observation—and with implications of a broader tragedy. In honoring the particularities of human life in Heavenly Heights, this fine writer honors life everywhere."—James Carroll
"Graceful and engaging . . . Miller explores the many meanings of home, rootedness, and community."—The Jewish Week
"Miller is able to conjure a culture and a movement—part religion, part pipe dream."—Elinor Lipman
"A necessary and important book. Miller has chosen to present the complex human reality behind the screaming headlines. We are grateful she did."—Naomi Regan
"For Orthodox Jews, Israel is not merely a country, but 'the Land of Israel, the biblical promised portion'—in other words, 'home.' The families in Miller's first novel are mainly immigrants from the U.S. who now live in a small settlement in an embattled area outside Jerusalem, motivated by the conviction that it's their responsibility to reclaim the land of the biblical patriarchs. Miller convincingly portrays the faith that leads people to leave their comfortable homes in American suburbs and relocate to a dangerous place where car and bus bombs are always a threat, and random shootings are common. The plot follows several women, all residents of one apartment house, over the space of a year of changing weather, national crises and dramatically altered lives. Enlivened by Miller's fresh and spirited eye for imagery, the narrative builds a web of cumulative quotidian details that convey the culture shock of primitive living where water supplies are chancy, construction is often shoddy, the bureaucracy is overwhelming, and men stow their weapons in the foyer of the shul, next to the stack of prayer books. The characters are nicely nuanced . . . In the end, the psychological landscape is the most impressive part of this often engrossing novel [and] readers must decide for themselves whether the appealing characters are idealists or zealots, 'heroes or just plain crazy,' as one character muses."—Publishers Weekly
"Miller's first novel chronicles the lives of a group of Americans, newly immigrated to Israel with a variety of baggage—emotional as well as material. Religiously observant Jews, they have come to settle not in Jerusalem proper but in a West Bank settlement called Heavenly Heights. A quote from Psalm 137—'We will raise Jerusalem above our chiefest joy'—is the bulwark that sustains the group through countless travails. The young families form friendships, the children play simple games, marriages have their ups and downs, the cycle of Jewish holidays is observed, and a culture of sorts develops. Miller mainly conveys the story from the perspective of several wives who often gather on the balcony of one of the apartments in Building Number Four (where they all live) to pass the time while the husbands are at Sabbath prayer service. Kentucky-born Debbie, a convert to Judaism, sings country songs and quotes her granny while tending to her large brood of children. Tova, newly arrived from Baltimore, has given up a life of material plenty to lead a more spiritual one with her zealous husband, as well as her children. Random West Bank violence, the family tensions, and the stress of living in such close quarters are only hinted at in their attempts at cheerful banter. Miller artfully presents a sobering yet sympathetic view of a parochial lifestyle, an intimate cameo replete with its values, problems, and hopes. For most fiction collections."—Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Maryland, Library Journal
"Remarkable . . . This is a sensitive and clear-eyed portrayal of a much-debated and misunderstood way of life."—Meredith Parets, Booklist
"Sly, understated, and ultimately heartbreaking,"a novel that traces American Jews who live on the West Bank--by a PEN Discovery Award Winner. In a debut the New York Times called "an allusive, graceful novel," a group of American Jews leave the United States, to live in Heavenly Heights, a settlement on the West Bank. The days are woven together by the religious rituals that set the order for their lives but do not completely prepare them for spontaneous acts of violence. Risa Miller conjures a culture and a movement viewed through the pinhole of one ragged apartment building's door. While bombs can be heard at the edges of these pages, it is inside Heavenly Heights where Miller's prose limns the lives of these souls who are yearning for transendence.
About the Author
won a PEN Discovery Award for Welcome to Heavenly Heights
. She grew up in Baltimore, spent several years in Israel, and now lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her family. This is her first novel.