Theodora’s gift by Ursula Dubosarsky

by

theodorasgift

Theodora’s Gift is the sequel to the exceptional The First Book of Samuel, written a decade ago. Set in the tumultuous times of September 11 2001 and told by an omnipresent but unknown narrator, Theodora’s Gift could be read alone. However, it is a much richer experience to meet and live with the intriguing and unusual Cass and the Danz families through both books. Reading The First Book of Samuel beforehand gives the reader so much information about the clans that so much in Theodora’s Gift relies on; Theodora’s Gift touches the reader so much more when they know the love and history bound up in these two families.

 Theodora is now fourteen, one year older than in The First Book of Samuel. She still lives with her father and stepmother in Sydney, while her mother lives in Melbourne. Theodora is still cynical and alert, but there are things that she knows she will never understand. For Theodora (and many others I assume) the word Israel represents so much that she does not comprehend and it is the terrorist attacks on September 11 that brings this incomprehension into focus. Elias, Theodora’s stepmother’s father, but more like a beloved grandfather to her, is dying. Her sensitive half-brother Samuel is interviewing Elias slowly and painstakingly about his past, about being driven out of Germany in the Second World War. The cruelty and horror of the times in encapsulated in the brief question and answer session recorded by Samuel;

  • A. What happened to him? He died after I left.
  • A. How? Was he old? Sick?

A.   There was a kind of law, Samuel, especially for Jews. No pets. (p. 99)

 The persecution of the Jews by the Nazis is coupled with the present persecution of the Jews and the West by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations and the sense of history repeating itself is one that is frustrating, that nothing has been learned by all of the death and horror of the previous century.

 Amongst all of this turmoil, Theodora and Samuel’s opera singing father leaves them for a period of time to return to his first wife.  His confusion and uncertainty about life terrifies the children. Their awakening awareness that adults are sometimes as complicated, confused and powerless as children is chilling for them.

 The motifs of death, ghosts and gifts resonate throughout the book and the pomegranate is a metaphor for the struggle of the Jewish throughout the ages, encapsulated in Elias’s and Elkanah’s  memories. There is much intertextuality in the novel, references to operas, literature, the Bible, as well as many Jewish and World War Two references. There is much for the reader to follow up and understand, if they wish.

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