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Reviewed by Ruffina Oserio for Readers' Favorite
Poignant and lyrical, Guesthouse for Ganesha: A Novel by Judith Teitelman is a debut novel with strong spiritual underpinnings, a story narrated by a Hindu god that features a Jewish mortal on a journey through difficult and challenging historical time. Esther Grünspan arrives in Köln with "a hardened heart as her sole luggage." Apart from the challenges in language, she is confronted with the social upheavals resulting from the war and has to hide her origins in order to survive the Holocaust. Thanks to her gift of tailoring, she can pass unnoticed. Accompanied by the Hindu god, Ganesha, she survives the complexities and the harshness of a world shattered by war and follows a trail that leads to India. What is it that keeps her safe and where does she find the hope to live, one day at a time?
Guesthouse for Ganesha is a huge literary success, from the skillful handling of plot elements to the meticulous weaving of historical elements into the story to the gorgeous prose. Judith Teitelman comes across as a great storyteller. The unusual pairing of a Hindu god and a Jewish woman creates a unique kind of interest for the reader and I enjoyed how the author allows popular Eastern beliefs and hints of the Jewish culture to come out in the narrative. The backdrop against which the story takes place is real and it reflects the social climates of a world waking up from the trauma of war — the insecurity, the sense of fear, and the protagonist's search for a peaceful abode are themes that dominate the writing. There is a deeper meaning in the story, one that indicates that peace isn't based on some human feeling, but is a spiritual gift.