“Safekeeping,” by Brooklyn resident Jessamyn Hope, is an expansive debut novel about love, the inevitability of loss and the courage it takes to keep starting over. Set against the backdrop of Jewish history, “Safekeeping” explores human perseverance through the stories of six troubled characters whose lives intersect one summer on a kibbutz in Israel. At its heart stands an object: a mysterious sapphire brooch with a fascinating and perilous backstory spanning three continents and seven centuries.
It is 1994 and Adam, a drug addict from New York City, travels with the medieval brooch to Kibbutz Sadot Hadar, where his late grandfather lived 50 years earlier as a Holocaust refugee. Desperate to redress a past crime, Adam must give the priceless family heirloom to a woman his grandfather fell in love with on the kibbutz. But first, he has to track this mystery woman down — a task that proves more complicated than expected.
On the kibbutz, Adam joins other lost souls trying to turn their lives around: Ulya, the ambitious and beautiful Soviet émigré; Farid, the lovelorn Palestinian farmhand; Claudette, the French Canadian Catholic with OCD; Ofir, the Israeli teenager wounded in a bus bombing; and Ziva, the old Zionist Socialist firebrand who founded the kibbutz. Driven together by the confines of the kibbutz, by love and hate, by their irreconcilable dreams and by a shared sense of insecurity, the fates of these six people become entangled as each gets one last shot at redemption.
The complex and powerful themes Hope weaves throughout “Safekeeping” are drawn from her own life. Through her intricate characters, she explores the yearning to belong somewhere, a feeling she is familiar with, having grown up in Montreal with an Italian-born mother and a South African father and then living in Israel before settling down in New York City. She vividly captures the experience of coming of age in a pre-9/11 world and the expectation of many at that time that they would inherit a world that was only going to get better.
Through Claudette, Hope reveals what it’s like to suffer with severe OCD, going beyond the well-known hand-washing to show the torment inside the mind. She drew on her experiences of living on a kibbutz to explore the allure of individualism versus the pull of community. And as in real life, everyone in the novel endures loss, and Hope drew on the grief of losing her mother in her early teens to examine how people carry on after tragedy to build lives of love and meaning.
“Safekeeping” is a multi-layered story that diverges and comes together, keeping the reader curious. The book will be available to the public on June 9, and there will be a launch event at BookCourt (163 Court St. in Cobble Hill) on June 11, as well as a debut fiction panel at WORD Bookstore (126 Franklin St. in Greenpoint) on July 8.