Levy, Michele. “Anna’s Dance: A Balkan Odyssey”, Black Rose Writing, 2020.
Love, Intrigue and Betrayal
When I lived in Israel (and I did so for many years), one of the things I loved the best was meeting Jews from all over the world and learning of their customs and traditions. What is interesting about this is that, at that time, I was a secular Jew who went to the land for the purpose of building the country and there was not much room for God in my life. However, I loved almost everything else about Judaism. (That has since changed and I have once again become observant). Coming across Michele Levy’s “Anna’s Dance” rekindled my desire to learn about a Jewish community I knew very little about, the Jews of the Balkans.
In 1968, twenty-three-year-old Anna Rossi, sees that the world is in a mess and she questions everything about her life and this includes her mostly Jewish background and heritage and her fear of intimacy. (If you were around in the 60s, you know that this was something that many of us did). She decided to go to Europe with a childhood friend, hoping to find out who she was. But things with her friend did not work out and Anna found herself alone and decided to continue her adventure alone or with strangers. She soon found herself in the midst of conflict in Eastern Europe when she arrived at the Balkans. She was as fascinated by the history and culture of the Balkans as she was conflicted about her own Jewish/American identity. Yet, she was able to emerge as a woman of courage through her experiences. As she cones-of-age, she becomes enlightened about her identity and her spirituality.
Levy’s gorgeous prose brought me a new friend with whom I realized that I had many shared experiences. In terms of her religion, Anna faces many questions and conflicts— she does not want to being Jewish but feels vulnerable and insecure when she hears anti-Semitic remarks.
A young Danish male suggested they continue traveling together and as they did, Max offers them a ride in his new luxury car and Anna decides to ditch her hitchhiking friend and travel with Max who was on his way to Yugoslavia and the Balkans. She soon learns that Max is smuggling contraband and that she is to be his cover at the border to which Anna agrees. Arriving in Yugoslavia, Anna falls in love with the culture and the people who live there under constant chaos. As the two travel, Anna meets Max’s friends while dealing with her internal problems and soon becomes Spiro’s, (a Macedonian separatist) lover and finds herself part of the intrigue of the region. Spiro and his colleagues want to preserve their cultural identity and this is when Anna begins to focus on her own cultural identity and begins to see it in a new way. We sense her passion for staying on illegally in Eastern Europe and we also see her capability to love and to be a woman of the house even though she is without the modern conveniences she could have had back in America. She was young and easily impressed and now that she finds love, she begins to understand more about who she is.
.Michele Levy obviously knows the Balkans and the people, their languages and the history of the region and she imparts that knowledge in lyrical, beautiful prose (I actually stopped on certain sentences and reread them several times in order to luxuriate in Levy’s wonderful use of words and structure). Her connection to and empathy for the characters is palpable throughout. I love reading a book that mesmerizes and educates at the same time and that is exactly what “Anna’s Dance” does.
Going back to my opening paragraph about learning about the Jews of the Balkans, I must recommend a recent essay by Michele Levy, “A Brief History of Balkan Jews and the Story of the Synagogue of Zagreb”. You can find it at Jewish Book Council.org.