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Every House Needs a Balcony – Rina Franks

Blurbed as “the Israeli Kite Runner,” Every House Needs a Balcony has the bones of an engaging immigrant story, but, ultimately, falls flat. Told in the first person, the book alternates between two timelines, one with Rina as a girl in Wadi Salib, a poor immigrant neighborhood in Haifa, the other as a young woman in Israel, Barcelona. The first timeline deals with observations of family, poverty, and immigration; the second with money, relationships and children. Both sections provide plenty of chances for observation. Between these thematic elements and the intriguing title that promised to tell a story either looking out from balconies or pining for that opportunity, this novel had all the makings of a gripping story, but it did not live up to any of these possibilities. In fact, in my opinion, it flopped.

I managed to finish Every House Needs a Balcony despite a genuine disinterest in what would happen next for two reasons. First, nothing about the book was terribly complex, so the story read quite quickly, and, second, I kept reading because I was determined to figure out what I found off-putting about it. I knew that I lacked an emotional connection to the story, but for most of the read I couldn’t figure out why, wondering about a translation issue (it was originally in Hebrew), or an unfamiliar setting, or experiences that I couldn’t relate to. None of these felt quite right, though.

Eventually I determined my problem with my the book was the first-person narration. There is nothing inherently wrong with this viewpoint and it did allow particular insight in both narrations—the best part of the story was the juxtaposition of the poverty and dangers for the young girl in Wadi Salib and the pampered luxury in Barcelona. And yet, the extremely limited viewpoint meant that the narrator is the only character who has even a modicum of well-roundedness. In my opinion, the narrator was not a particularly interesting character. In contrast, Franks sometimes fills out the other characters in the story, but does more with this in the Wadi Salib portion of the book, while the romance plot has a variety of flat characters (including those who are more-rounded in the other half) who come in and out of the story with no warning or explanation. Adding to my frustration with Every House Needs a Balcony was that it was effectively two independent stories linked by a small number of characters and juxtaposed. This technique can work, but here I thought the two were jarring and did not hang together.

I had high hopes for Every House Needs a Balcony, and there are all the elements of a great story, but in the end I just can’t recommend it to anyone.

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Next up, I’ve been wanting to read more spy thrillers, and recently picked up a copy of Frederick Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal. So far I’m quite happy with this change of pace.