Cover image for Welcome to heavenly heights
Welcome to heavenly heights
Miller, Risa.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
230 pages ; 22 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


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A first novel written by PEN Discovery Award Winner Risa Miller, Welcome to Heavenly Heights describes a group of American Jews who have left the United States, not just to move to Israel, but to live in a settlement on the West Bank. Miller conjures a culture and a movement--part religion, part pipe dream--viewed through the pinhole of one ragged apartment building's door: its families, their dinners, their weddings, their marriages, their sorrows. While bombs can be heard at the edges of these pages, it is inside the settlement, Heavenly Heights where Miller's delicate, understated prose limns the lives of these tender souls.

Author Notes

Risa Miller grew up in Baltimore, MD. She lived in Israel for several years and now resides in Brookline, MA.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

"If the entire planet was a face, the settlements were the brow and Jerusalem was the eye," reflects Tova, a resident of the West Bank apartment complex that is the setting of Risa Miller's remarkable first novel. With such observations, Miller's American Jewish characters remind themselves why they have come to Israel, and she relates their stories with delicacy and bittersweet humor. Tova struggles with flashes of homesickness and worries about the changes this new life has wrought in her daughter. Nathan and Sandy argue over how to discipline their boisterous and impulsive son, Yossi. Mr. Stanetsky, a Holocaust survivor, carries a dog-eared photograph of his parents and sister with him as he collects rent from his tenants. In the background, the threat of violence and political upheaval are a constant rumble. Miller uses small catastrophes--a vandalized water pipe, a shattered windshield--to underscore the precariousness of life in Heavenly Heights and the bonds that connect its residents. This is a sensitive and clear-eyed portrayal of a much-debated and misunderstood way of life. --Meredith Parets

Publisher's Weekly Review

For Orthodox Jews, Israel is not merely a country, but "the Land of Israel, the biblical promised portion"-in other words, "home." The families in Miller's first novel are mainly immigrants from the U.S. who now live in a small settlement in an embattled area outside Jerusalem, motivated by the conviction that it's their responsibility to reclaim the land of the biblical patriarchs. Miller convincingly portrays the faith that leads people to leave their comfortable homes in American suburbs and relocate to a dangerous place where car and bus bombs are always a threat, and random shootings are common. The plot follows several women, all residents of one apartment house, over the space of a year of changing weather, national crises and dramatically altered lives. Enlivened by Miller's fresh and spirited eye for imagery, the narrative builds a web of cumulative quotidian details that convey the culture shock of primitive living where water supplies are chancy, construction is often shoddy, the bureaucracy is overwhelming, and men stow their weapons in the foyer of the shul, next to the stack of prayer books. The characters are nicely nuanced, but quick shifts in chronology sometimes impede the narrative flow. In the end, the psychological landscape is the most impressive part of this often engrossing novel. But outside of portraying the settlers' fundamental religious convictions, Miller never really develops the other side of the argument-that the West Bank communities are provocative to their Arab neighbors. In the end, readers must decide for themselves whether the appealing characters are idealists or zealots, "heroes or just plain crazy," as one character muses. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. Author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Miller's first novel chronicles the lives of a group of Americans, newly immigrated to Israel with a variety of baggage-emotional as well as material. Religiously observant Jews, they have come to settle not in Jerusalem proper but in a West Bank settlement called Heavenly Heights. A quote from Psalm 137-"We will raise Jerusalem above our chiefest joy"-is the bulwark that sustains the group through countless travails. The young families form friendships, the children play simple games, marriages have their ups and downs, the cycle of Jewish holidays is observed, and a culture of sorts develops. Miller mainly conveys the story from the perspective of several wives who often gather on the balcony of one of the apartments in Building Number Four (where they all live) to pass the time while the husbands are at Sabbath prayer service. Kentucky-born Debbie, a convert to Judaism, sings country songs and quotes her granny while tending to her large brood of children. Tova, newly arrived from Baltimore, has given up a life of material plenty to lead a more spiritual one with her zealous husband, as well as her children. Random West Bank violence, the family tensions, and the stress of living in such close quarters are only hinted at in their attempts at cheerful banter. Miller artfully presents a sobering yet sympathetic view of a parochial lifestyle, an intimate cameo replete with its values, problems, and hopes. For most fiction collections.-Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, MD (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.