Masha Hamilton

"The Distance Between Us"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie NOV 7, 2004)

"But those barriers that she's put up, necessary barriers, may have sometimes, she sees now, gotten in the way of the story. Maybe this time she can write something that will compensate for the other half-stories. A piece that will show immediately how violence shreds sleep and appetite and memory, disfiguring those it leaves behind. A story that will get close enough to give vengeance a human face."

The Distance Between Us is an extraordinarily powerful, beautifully crafted novel. Masha Hamilton's prose is, at times, luminescent and lyrical, and at others, spare and almost brutal in its honesty. She paints here a poignant portrait of a woman facing a major crossroad in her life which will change her forever. This novel is more a sensitive psychological study than a book with an action driven plot.
 
Catherine (Caddie) Blair is an American journalist stationed in Jerusalem, who has been covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years. She prizes her professional detachment and shies away from anything that smacks of sentimentality. It is important to keep her emotions under wraps in both her writing and in her personal life. "Reflect the story; don't absorb it," is her creed, "because if you allow yourself to feel the full force of sorrows and horrors, you will succumb to them."
 
On a trip to Lebanon for an important interview, Caddie's Land Rover is ambushed and her lover, Marcus, is killed. His death stuns her; shakes her to the core. She, who has covered so many battles, so much violence, finds herself musing at the many colors of a loved one's blood. Accustomed to holding her emotions in check, she doesn't know what to do with the onslaught of feelings that threaten to overpower her. For the first time that she can remember her reporter's gift of perfect recall is gone, as is her ability to be a cautious observer. She fears that after this life-altering event, she will never be “restored to even an accepted facsimile of what she was before.”
 
Ordered back to New York for R&R by her editor, Caddie persuades him to let her remain longer in Jerusalem under the guise of writing a feature story on the "effects of violence." Overwhelmed with rage, a need for revenge, survivor's guilt, (Would Marcus have accompanied her if she hadn't asked him to do the photography for her article?), Caddie searches for a response to the murder. She considers revenge, retaliation, among other possible solutions. Compelled to act, she needs to do something that will bring her peace and allow her to move on with her life. And she longs to write something to compensate for all the barriers which sometimes got in the way of her stories. "A piece that will show intimately how violence shreds sleep and appetite and memory, disfiguring those it leaves behind. A story that will get close enough to give violence a human face."
 
Ms. Hamilton brings her characters to life on these pages, especially Caddie. She is developed lovingly, and the changes she makes in the novel's 279 pages are intense and deeply felt. The novel's secondary characters are phenomenal, real originals - from interfering, gossipy Ya'el to Mr. Gruizin, who paints a red stripe on the mailbox of any out-of-town neighbor - to ensure their healthy return. There's mad Anya, who shouts and whispers her prophecies from street corners, Mrs. Weizman, always ready with her chicken soup to feed Caddie, and Goronsky, the man who suddenly enters Caddie's life and helps her define her ethical limits. The characters have one principal commonality - they have all been scarred and altered by violence.
 
The author's vivid descriptions of Jerusalem brings that city to life. Her landscapes, images of light refracting against Jerusalem stone, the contradictory mix of the city‘s inhabitants, the frenzy of everyday activity and the silence of Shabbat, evoke a timelessness and enrich the novel tremendously. This is a rare book - a real find. Highly recommended!
 
Masha Hamilton has actually worked for The Associated Press as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East and has covered the intefadeh. This firsthand experience is evident in the story's detailed development.

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About the Author:

Masha HamiltonMasha Hamilton worked as a foreign correspondent for The Associated Press for five years in the Middle East, where she covered the intefadeh, the peace process and the partial Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

Then she spent five years in Moscow, where she was a Moscow correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a newspaper column, "Postcard from Moscow," that ran in about 35 U.S. newspapers, and reported for NBC/Mutual Radio. She wrote about Kremlin politics as well as life for average Russians under Gorbachev and Yeltsin during the coup and collapse of the Soviet Union.

She traveled to Afghanistan in the spring of 2004 as a freelance journalist.

Masha received her B.A from Brown University. In 2002, she was awarded the Arizona Arts Fellowship for Fiction and attended Yaddo in June of 2003. She currently teaches novel writing for Gotham Writers' Workshop in New York City and is a shiatsu practitioner.

She lives with her husband and three children in New York City.

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