Solving mysteries

Books about two nations: Palestine and Navajo


The first book reviewed this week is a historical memoir in which a Jewish woman experiences a shift in her views about Palestinians. The second is a mystery solved by oh-so-familiar characters in Indian Country.

Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: Journeys in Palestine and Israel

Surely, you’ve heard the saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Iris Keltz tops that by getting married.

Fresh out of college in 1967, Keltz goes on a low-budget adventure, hitchhiking from Paris to Jerusalem, Jordan. She was raised in New York City on what she describes as “the Jewish narrative of suffering in a thousand-year Diaspora,” which, of course, included the Holocaust.

While waiting three days for the official okay to pass a checkpoint into Jerusalem, Israel, by chance she meets Faisal, a Palestinian poet and musician, and his hospitable family. Three weeks later they are married.

“My capricious decision to marry a foreign man living on the other side of the world, who spoke broken English and came from a family considered the enemy of my family, was more complex than either of us was willing to admit.”

Then the Six Day War happens.

The book’s first half is a fascinating account of her life with Faisal and his family, and then the couple’s move to the United States. The young Keltz grows to love these supposed enemies and to realize the injustices inflicted on Palestinians.

“I tried to imagine my family being kicked out of our home in Queens by an advancing army who claimed Queens as their ancestral homeland, forcing us to resettle in Brooklyn — only to be displaced and occupied 19 years later. I could not fathom such trauma.”

The marriage doesn’t last. Keltz goes on to enjoy hippie life in Taos, marriage to a blacksmith and teaching. (She is the author of “Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie.”) Faisal has his own family in upstate New York.

A member of Jewish Voice for Peace, Keltz has spent decades supporting human rights for Palestinians. The memoir includes her visits to the Middle East.

Keltz includes photos, a glossary and other useful information.

My number rule for memoirs is that the author must have had an interesting life. Keltz meets the test, but more than that, I enjoyed reading how her experiences inspired change.

Keltz will sign and discuss her historical memoir Saturday (May 27), 2 p.m. at Op. Cit. Bookshop-Taos, 124A Bent Street.

“Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land: Journeys in Palestine and Israel” is a 293-page paperback published by Nighthawk Press that costs $19.95.

Song of the Lion

Many people inherit their looks and material goods from their parents. In Anne Hillerman’s case, she took on the characters her late father, Tony Hillerman, created. But in this third of the Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito series, I believe Hillerman has made them her own.

This mystery starts with a car bomb killing a young man outside Shiprock High School, where a big basketball game is under way. Tribal officer Bernadette Manuelito is off duty but she doesn’t hesitate getting involved.

The car belongs to the mediator for a proposed upscale development on Indian land at the Grand Canyon. As to be expected, the idea is controversial.

Tribal officer Jim Chee, who is married to Manuelito, is assigned to be the mediator’s bodyguard during the public meetings scheduled in Tuba City. Chee is not ecstatic to be the man’s babysitter.

Then, there is Lt. Joe Leaphorn, now retired and disabled from a shooting, but still a wise resource to the officers.

Naturally, Hillerman offers twists and turns found in a world as close-knit as Navajo Nation.

For me, the highlight of this book is not the mystery but the people trying to solve it, especially Manuelito who is one savvy cop and a caring individual.

Here’s a conversation between Manuelito and Chee that demonstrates their playful relationship.

“ ‘I’d love more hot chocolate. I’m still cold from the parking lot.’ Chee took her cup and turned back to the counter. ‘I can feel you watching me. Are you trying to steal my recipe?’ ‘Never. Then I’d have to make my own hot chocolate.’ He poured the water, stirred, came back to the table, and put the cup in front of her. She noticed tiny white specks on the light brown froth. ‘What are these?’ ‘Miniature marshmallows, of course.’ ‘Of course. Did you make them, too?’ ‘I’m not telling.’ “

Another of Hillerman’s strengths is her portrayal of Indian Country, with its traditions and troubles.

And what about the lion? Yes, a real one supplies a bit of justice at the end.

Hillerman is a journalist and author of several fiction and nonfiction books. She will have a book reading and signing Saturday (June 3), 2 p.m. at Op. Cit. Bookshop, 124A Bent St.

“Song of the Lion,” published by Harper Collins, is a 291-page hardcover that costs $27.99.

Joan Livingston is a writer and a reader living in Ranchos de Taos. For more, visit