Marina, ‘the gypsy scholar’ a writer and academic and her psychoanalyst husband Jacob were each born on Kibbutzes in Israel. Their families moved to America when their children were young.
When they meet at a university in California, Marina is a grad-student and Jacob is a successful practitioner and teacher and has a young son, Ben, from a disastrous marriage. The family moves to a brownstone in Harlem, formerly a small convent and shelter run by nuns.
Marina has a loving relationship with Ben but has not been able to conceive her own child. Constance, a young refugee from Rwanda, who knows the house from when the nuns occupied it, comes to rely on Marina’s growing attachment to and care for her son, Gabrielle.
After dropping out of college Ben is unmoored and comes to work at the local grocery store where he befriends a young woman who is an undocumented immigrant.
After learning that Gizela, Marina’s long disappeared mother has died, Jacob and his tight knit loving family, Ben and Alma, Constance and Gabrielle all join Marina in her mother’s former home to celebrate Christmas, coming together, and the unusually structured family they have formed.
Alice Nelson skilfully weaves together these shared stories of displacement and trauma into a beautifully told hope-filled and outstanding novel.