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The Promised Land




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The Promised Land, a Novel. Ruhama Veltfort

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The Promised Land: A Novel, Ruhama Veltfort (covered wagon, mountains, Hebrew script in clouds)

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What Do the Critics Say?

“Other writers have related the brave stories of Jewish immigrant pioneers who made their way from tiny villages in Eastern Europe to the vast open spaces and new possibilities of the American West, but Ruhama Veltfort, in her impressive first novel, The Promised Land, recasts the tale in a spiritual dimension. She delves into the religious yearnings of a group of travelers, bound together by faith and family, who flee the pogroms and poverty of 19th-century Poland. Here the inner adventure is as striking as the landscape they navigate.”

— Sandee Brawarski, New York Times Book Review

“A poignant portrait of an extraordinary marriage. . . . This is a rich and rewarding novel, a tapestry of many closely interwoven themes, including religious identity, faith and doubt, tradition and innovation, exile and return. . . . The Promised Land shows the sure touch of a poet and the kind of emotional depth and understanding that can take a lifetime to develop. . . . Not only has Veltfort succeeded in evoking the historical past: the vanished world of the East European shetls, the energy of 19th-century St. Louis, and the dangers and splendors of the western wilderness. She has also succeeded in imagining her way into the minds of her two main characters.”

Merle Rubin, Christian Science Monitor

“... Veltfort has gone beyond following tradition here and instead has created what many in the book business have hoped for but thought impossible: a novel true to both literary and spiritual traditions.”

— Mardi Link, ForeWord

“This is a most beautiful and original book. I have never read one quite like it, but would greatly like to. The narrative line is strong, the characters very real, the places come alive in all their smells and sights, and it is a fine piece of storytelling. One has to say this up front, because this is a book about mysticism, about the experiences and ecstatic knowledge that lie beneath the forms and rules of a religion, and about how a creative spirituality can arise in individuals that leads them to break out of the boundaries of their inherited culture. In other words it is an intellectually serious book. It steers clear of sentimental spiritual claptrap. In the story, terrible things happen to people we have grown to love. But it is neither an 'intellectual' book (i.e., inaccessible, hard work to read) nor a grim one. The narrative is strong because we care about these people and they are on a great quest, but also because the earthy details of their lives are as important to the author as their mystical experiences.
       One of the joys of the book is to look at a familiar scene — the American South and the frontier West — through unfamiliar eyes. E.g. Chana, the leading female character, only slowly understands that the black women with whom she does the chores in a rich Jew's house in St. Louis are slaves.
       The most terrible thing for these believers is not perhaps the pogroms or the starvation or the Indians, but the dangers inherent in the freedom and prosperity of the new land. "How am I to raise my sons here...?" asks one father. "Here there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, and all are gone to the devil in their crazy pursuit of riches." And the elder son himself says, "I ain't a Jew! ... I don't have to be nothin' I don't want to be. What else are we going West for?" If I have any criticism of the book it is that the ending, which brought tears to my eyes, nonetheless seemed to half-sidestep some of the issues raised about prosperity and keeping the faith. The beautiful spareness of the language of the book, without a wasted word, was too spare for me at the end. But perhaps, then what I really want is the sequel, about the survivors and their granmdchildren, and how they preserve the unity of body and spirit in the dangerously prosperous times in which we live.”

— David Belden, in "Novels to Recommend? Here's One: The Promised Land"
    Tikkun Daily Blog

“With sure-handed prose perfectly tuned to her characters and her story, Ruhama Veltfort has made an important contribution to the tradition of immigrant literature. The Promised Land is a stirring tale of courage, faith, hope, and dignity.”

— Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948

“A masterpiece of magical realism and spirituality. Ruhama Veltfort brings us a rich tapestry that interweaves compelling characters, Jewish mysticism, the earth of Old Europe and the New West, the enduring Human spirit, and the wisdom that transcends and unites cultures.”

— Neil Douglas-Klotz, author of Prayers of the Cosmos and Desert Wisdom

"Rumaha Veltfort's debut novel . . . explores big concepts like exile, love, faith, and the notion of what it means to create a home. The book breaks a few 'first novel' rules and does it well. Our two guides each have their own voice­and each voice differs significantly. . . . Veltfort's scholarship is faultless, and she provides significant and realistic detail on the spoken languages, the religious and social customs, from the setting and clothing to the types of traditions, foods, rituals, and prayers which are used in this now lost world of the orthodox Polish shtetl."

— Magdalena Ball, The Midwest Book Review

“One of the most powerful themes is the impact that religion has on the lives of the group. . . . Veltfort has drawn some very impressive characterizations, particularly Yitzhak, whose faith appears unshakable but whose weakness finally surfaces. Chana's strength allows her to ultimately become the matriarch. . . . The Promised Land is a welcome addition and tribute to the tenacity of strong pioneers who made history and protected the religions of our country.”

Deseret News

“Spirituality, visions and an uncertain future are skillfully written to depict this moving story of a small band of Jewish immigrants seeking a new life.”

Polish American Journal

“From the first sentence, I was hooked. Without warning, Veltfort deftly drops the reader into a tiny village in 19th Century Poland. This strange landscape, as alien as Dune, is made comfortable by its warm, vibrant characters with their universally human fears, aspirations, and ideals. It was empathy for these odd people, a reluctant Rabbi, his wife, and a few followers, that made it a pleasure to learn their language and religion, and a delight to behold the world through their eyes. There's lots of excitement as this often not-so-merry but always entertaining band struggles to survive the hazardous journey from war-torn Eastern Europe to the still untamed American West. With so much action and adventure to stimulate the imagination, and so much drama to tug the heart, it's easy to forget that how well the book re-awakens your spiritual core with every page. Although this is a story about Orthodox Judaism, with overtones of Jewish mysticism, its messages are transcendent, non-denominational, and full of understanding and love for God. Extremely well written, I literally couldn't put it down while I was reading it, and can't get it out of my head now that I'm done. My only disappointment is that this is a first novel—I can't rush out and get more by the same author.”

— reader