Orlando Ortega-Medina weaves together a beautiful tableau of interconnected stories that examine love and fixation in Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions. Over the course of his anthology we watch as characters move in and out of the multiple stories, which creates a dynamic universe that spans the entire world. Many of his characters are dealing with a profound darkness, but their journeys are captivatingly transformative.
Jerusalem Ablaze is a short anthology that can be read in the span of an evening and would best be paired with some Wagner softly playing in the background. Reading this book in one sitting is actually the best way to experience it as the characters shift so smoothly between stories that being ensconced in the universe will help you catch these connections more easily. By connecting his stories Ortega-Medina is able to provide lush backstories for characters that would often only be side characters within a traditional anthology work.
While his interconnected works are executed fantastically, including the connection drawn between “Star Party” and “An Israel State of Mind Parts I and II” through the character Marc, he also has some wonderful standalone pieces. My favorite within the collection is “After the Storm.” In this story a woman leaves her home after a particularly destructive storm and finds the body of a young man buried in the sand. We are given a glimpse at her emotional and mental state at this moment in her life through her connection to this body. Then as the story draws to an end we are given two different views on her behavior over the past few months as well.
Ortega-Medina is not afraid to examine the darker elements of relationships, this is presented within “After the Storm”, but it also appears in a number of his other stories. The most unsettling of which is “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them.” In this piece we are introduced to a woman who is being beaten by her husband and no matter how often she tries to find help and support from her family and community they brush her aside. This forces her to take her safety, as well as the safety of her child, into her own hands. The descriptive nature of Ortega-Medina’s writing is exquisitely executed and I could see each and every one of his scenes inside my mind. For those who are not afraid to examine the darker side of human nature this book is a must read.
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