THERA is the story of Ella Miller, a 36-year-old archaeologist studying one of the largest volcanic blasts in history, the famous Thera eruption. She develops a novel theory that the devastating blast sparked the biblical ten plagues, which led to the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt.
Like her research subject, Ella’s life is undergoing tectonic shifts. Her marriage to her former mentor, the needy and brutish Amnon, has come to an end. Her relationships with her intellectually towering father and his servile wife are unbearable. Her young son, Gili, swings wildly from adaptability to despair. Her new lover must face up to his own recently destroyed marriage. Ella seeks to build a new kingdom atop the ruins of the old, but murmurings beneath the family edifice create fault lines that threaten to destabilise her future.
THERA presents a dazzling depiction of family life. In sharp, unerring prose, it excavates the archaeology of the human soul.
Acclaimed Israeli author Shalev (Husband and Wife) comes close to exhausting archeology as metaphor in this bleak excavation of a family's breakup. Set in Jerusalem, the novel opens just after archeologist Ella Miller asks her husband, her former mentor, to leave. When her decision is met with condemnation by friends and family, she plunges into depression and anxiety over how their six-year-old son will cope. With dense, beautiful prose, Shalev chips away at Ella's past, digging up resentments and disappointments, and presenting them sliver by sliver. Although Ella observes her son with touching detail, her focus is ultimately inward, making her a hard character to like. When she becomes involved with a lover, for instance, her self-absorption keeps her from recognizing the patterns she's repeating. Ella is known for drawing unsubstantiated parallels between the Israelites' exodus from Egypt and the flight from a major volcanic eruption on the Greek island of Thera (now Santorini); she believes societies glorify their histories, creating art and myth from disaster, leaving the reader to hope that this lovely, troubled woman will someday be able to do the same for herself.