Between Gods by Alison Pick is a very powerful memoir. It takes readers on a journey that anyone can relate to and enjoy. Alison is a poet and a novelist, having written the bestseller Far to Go. Her research on this earlier Holocaust novel inspired Alison to convert to Judaism, which she writes about in her current book. In the plot of Between Gods the author weaves together faith, family, and Judaic history.
This book is different from other stories about re-discovering faith since Alison was half-Jewish. Yet, in attempting to make the transformation back to her Jewish roots she felt abandoned and at odds with Toronto’s Reform Rabbis who held fast to Jewish law, stipulating that both marriage partners convert to Judaism. She explained the insurmountable problem of her mother not being Jewish, so technically Alison wasn’t either; thus she had to convert. But she was thwarted by the law, which was eventually changed, that stipulated anyone marrying a non-Jew would require the entire couple to convert.
Readers are taken on a roller coaster ride of emotions, at times crying and laughing with Alison as she tells her sad, tragic, and uplifting journey. She wrote, “When I learned my Dad was Jewish, I assumed I could be, too, if I wanted…but I might not be able to convert, given that my fiancé wasn’t Jewish, I experienced it as a kind of rejection.” Furthermore she noted, “Because the Holocaust is my access point it’s taking a while for me to learn the joy. And in some ways I don’t feel very welcome.”
The author explained, “I was half-Jewish, but knew nothing beyond the horrific event that happened to my family. Part of the process of becoming Jewish was to untangle some things. The Holocaust was my entry point, yet it is not now my only experience of Judaism.”
What makes this book relatable to today’s issues is Alison’s descriptions of the Jews of the Holocaust era who struggled while retreating, denying, and ignoring the dangers. She learned that some of her “Pick” relatives escaped from the Czech Republic during WWII, while others died in concentration camps. She also discovered that her own father had not known of this history until he was in his twenties. The book is most powerful when both Alison and her dad discover their families past and begin to identify with their Jewish faith. The history of her family, from their time in Czechoslovakia, to Auschwitz, then to Canada is heart wrenching. She learned how her father’s side of the family attempted to ignore and dismiss their Jewish background while they posed as Christians when they attended an Anglican Church and ate ham on Christmas.
Pick hopes that even those not Jewish can relate to the themes in this book of love, suffering and redemption. “Someone not Jewish can still bring their own emotion and experience to the story. They can relate to the book even though their life details are different by understanding the need to belong to a community. I have also been told by people who were adopted how this book applies to them since they also found something significant about their life.”
The main portion of the book explains how Alison connected with her Jewish identity through her relationships with her finance, her dad, and her new found Jewish friends. Readers travel with Alison and her fiancé, Degan, through Europe visiting family sites, Auschwitz, and the Holocaust memorial in Prague. But, the book also explores her struggles to finish a novel based during the Holocaust, to finally marry Degan after 7 years together, losing a baby due to a miscarriage, and going through another turbulent pregnancy. Although it also delves into her bouts of depression, it is not the emphasis of the story.
Between Gods is a powerful book that has the author reclaiming the heritage her grandparents had abandoned. Readers will not want to put the book down because this memoir is a beautifully woven story of family, partnership, religion, love and reconciliation as she connects her present life to the past.