The Gringa is a fascinating story about Leonora Gelb, accused of being a terrorist in Lima, Peru. Her Jewishness is rarely covered but it gives an underlying gravitas to her life. Her family was considered lapsed Jews. Although when American rabbis sent a delegation to Lima in 2000, there was some question about the Gelb’s rediscovery of Judaism. Rabbi Eisen, head of the conservative Sociedad de Imanuel in Miraflores, visited Leonora when she was in solitary confinement. When the rabbi was asked if Leonora Jewish concern for social justice influenced her violent action. He laughed and said there is a fine line between changing the world and violence.
There is a passage of the book where Rabbi Eisen is first approached by Leonora after Shabbat services. Her description and his reaction are heartbreaking. It was his thirtieth anniversary with his wife and were celebrating by seeing Rigoletto. His empathy was so strong that he considered giving Leonora his ticket.
Rabbi Eisen and the Jewish congregation is connecting thread through the book. Towards the later section Leonora attends service and observes how the mainly Spanish congregation don’t understand Hebrew. They are faking it, playing their part. The realization brings an unexpected surge of binding. Incomprehension is makes her belong to them.
She privately talks to the rabbi about how she is fighting to feed the people of Lima that are oppressed by the government. She asks isn’t God supposed to help them? The rabbi responds with do you think you can take His Place?
The clever conceit of the book is how the author flips between the research about Leo and his personnel life and then tells the Leo story. It’s a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction.
Magnificent writing and a propulsive moving ending.