Alison Pick’s novel Far to Go explores through fiction her family’s long-buried past: her grandparents were Czech Jews who escaped the Holocaust only to convert to Christianity in Canada and hide the past. Between Gods explores that same territory through the (sometimes less forgiving) lens of non-fiction. In raw, lucid prose, Pick uncovers the years during which she converted to Judaism while marrying her longtime partner, having a child, and struggling with depression. There’s a lot going on here, and what holds it all together is Alison Pick’s luminous prose and unflinching honesty. The tone ranges from dark — sometimes very dark, as Pick plumbs the depths of her own depression and her family’s wartime experiences — to funny, as she navigates the process of converting to Judaism under the tutelage of the least empathetic teacher imaginable.
Judaism is well-known to be one of the few world religions that, far from actively proselytizing, actually makes it difficult for people to convert. Rabbis want to be pretty sure that becoming a Jew is no fleeting fancy before they accept you into the fold, and as Pick goes through this process, she is forced to confront her own feelings about her childhood Christianity and the faith of her ancestors. Perhaps appropriately, given the traditional emphasis on Judaism as a religion the focuses more on how you live than on what you believe, there’s little focus here on what Pick actually believes about God or anything supernatural. Though she is obviously a deeply spiritual person, her memoir contains little sense of the presence of a personal God. But then, one of the best-loved women’s stories in the Jewish Scriptures, the Book of Esther, famously never mentions the name of God at all, yet its story is not only a key piece of Jewish history but the basis for the feast of Purim. Alison Pick’s modern story echoes the Esther scroll in suggesting that while the existence of God may be peripheral to the story of a faithful Jewish woman, the question of identity –who am I and what does it mean to be a Jew? — must always be central.