O Jerusalem (1999)

Each Tuesday during this spring’s Twenty Weeks of Buzz, I’ll be posting about a different one of my twenty books, with remarks, reflections, and information about the writing process. (Click on the photos below to enlarge.)

A historical mystery would appear to be a contradiction in terms: If something already happened, where’s the mystery in it? But more than merely the event in question, working in an historical setting permits the author to poke at the edges of then-and-now, and to find the reverberations of the present in the past.

I once read a memoir about early twentieth century life in Jerusalem, which presented the image of a city cheerfully united under the oppression of the Turks. Muslim, Jewish, and Christian: equally poor, equally oppressed, equally squeezed by the Ottoman grip. The children of the three communities played together, the men worked together, the women marketed together—the author, a Muslim, recalled the tradition of the milk mother, when women with children of like ages would nurse the other’s infant, as a form of insurance in those pre-formula days. Life was far from idyllic, but the concerns that stemmed from the difference in religion were among the lesser barriers to peaceful life.

And then came the Great War, and Allenby presenting his victory to the bled-dry British people as a Christmas triumph. The Ottoman Empire was gone from Palestine, leaving the British to extend their own, very different understanding of fair rule to a land with an entirely different history.

O Jerusalem was written well before the events of 9/11, but even then it was clear the direction in which the world was moving. We have come far since Muslim and Christian women in Jerusalem nursed one another’s children. And sadly, a big step of that path was under the hand of the well-meaning British.


  1. Strawberry Curls says:

    This is one of my favorites (if I can choose a favorite, that is) of the Russell novels. The sense of the place, so foreign and so filled with history, just drips off the page and the story is just a rip snorting yarn on first read, then something much richer when you reread it.

    Thank you for these essays on your novels, Laurie, they are a treat to read.

  2. I remember my great excitement when this one came out. These are some of my favorite Holmes/Russell interactions. I think it’s one of my favorites of the series. (I am also excited for God of the Hive!)

  3. I, too, remember this one particularly – I think it was the second Russell I was able to buy as it was actually published, and so I was just beginning to read them in order. I recall (this was pre-internet days for me!) walking into Borders on Union Square in San Francisco on the first day of my holiday in summer 1999 and seeing this on the ‘new books’ stand – Joy! The perfect surprise for holiday reading, as I hadn’t known it was being being published. (NB while I love the anticipation now, I do miss the spontaneous ‘finds’ when walking into a bookstore this way and seeing something unexpected!)

    O Jerusalem and it’s successor are superb books indeed, Laurie does so much more than tell a story here.


  4. I blame Ms. King for my decsion to read a dual biography on T. E. Lawrence and Aaron Aaronshon. And for the one to watch “Lawrence of Arabia”. ENough said.

Speak Your Mind