The Mandelbaum Gate SPA 5


Level A

The Mandelbaum Gate in Jerusalem is the crossing point between Israel and Jordan--a place of tension where the present-day pilgrim to the Holy Places meets modern political division. In religious and in political terms, the Holy Land is, as it always was, a land of schism; and this fact has interested a number of novelists. The Holy Land novel has quite a place in the tradition of English fiction, particularly among Catholic novelists.

Muriel Spark, herself a Catholic, has set what is probably her most overtly Catholic novel around this border. The year is 1961, the year of the Eichmann trial. The subject of the book is a modern pilgrimage.

It is the story of Barbara Vaughan, an English spinster whose background on her father's side is upper-middle-class English and on her mother's British-Jewish. A Catholic convert, she has fallen in love with a married man who is engaged as an archaeologist on the Dead Sea Scrolls site at Qumran in Jordan; both of them are waiting for Rome to annul his first marriage so that theirs can take place.

The problems, then, are difficult enough, but Muriel Spark quickly compounds them by bringing Barbara to divided Jerusalem, where all the complications of her heritage--English, Jewish, Catholic--are likely to be exposed. And Jerusalem brings in political problems as well.

So Barbara's pilgrimage to the Holy Land is in part religious, in part racial, and in part sexual. She goes to Israel first, and meets her Jewishness. Then, seeking harmony, she goes through Mandelbaum Gate into Jordan. But here she is in danger; she is thought to be an Israeli spy. A British consular official arranges for her to disguise herself as an Arab servant; then he falls victim to amnesia, and Barbara Vaughan is "missing." Chased by the headmistress of her school in England, by a Jordanian spy and by the police, she hides in a house in Jericho devoted to spying and whiteslaving.

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