How does a Norwegian Quaker from Montana end up at the Jewish Outreach Center carrying Torah scrolls? The author grew up outside of Missoula in a blue-collar neighborhood called Target Range. She had never met anyone who didn't celebrate Christmas and had only a vague notion of what Chanukah and Passover were. The only encounter she had with Judaism in her childhood was eating kosher pickles. Fast-forward twenty years: Shelley moves to Washington DC and, on a lark, signs up for a free crash course in Hebrew at a place called the Jewish Outreach Center. Little did she know that she would end up being part of a world of lighting Shabbat candles and reciting the Shema and getting tipsy on Purim. A world of Torah study and joy and atonement. For one year she would study Hebrew and celebrate Jewish holidays. A cowgirl from Montana among pious Orthodox people.
Jan McCann, a PhD student in German at Willwood University, receives a phone call from her advisor, Hugo Diener. He urges her to see him at once. By the time she reaches his office, he's dead. An autopsy determines that Diener died of strychnine poisoning after eating a Mozartkugel, a chocolate that Jan herself has placed in his cubbyhole. She soon realizes she has been framed. The next day, Jan narrowly escapes an attempt on her life. A lapsed Quaker, she collects her thoughts in a dilapidated Friends meetinghouse, a remnant from the humble past of the now elite university. She relies on non-violent Quaker principles and the loose worldwide fellowship of Friends in pursuit of the murderer. Her investigation takes her form a Quaker meetinghouse to a jazz club in Nigeria, from a masquerade ball in Vienna to a slum in Kiev.
The ten stories that make up Evening in Missoula all take place on the same chilly November evening in Missoula, Montana. The characters--ranging from a down-and-out Vietnam vet to a visiting Ivy League professor--are inexplicably intertwined with one another. Their lives intersect at points of crisis; a born again Christian bus driver's reckoning with his checkered past, a young coed's sudden opportunity to elope with a cowboy, a woman's desire to realize her deceased brother's dream of opening a sports bar in Paris.
Missoula is a place divided between devout rednecks and equally devout granolas, between native Montanans wishing to preserve their wide-open spaces, and transplanted east coast scholars in search of a decent cappuccino. The landscape is both beautiful and forbidding. Snow-capped mountains surround the valley, leaving no easy way out of the harsh Missoula winter.
The Blue Kimono gets its title from a tiny outfit the author bought at the Suitengu fertility shrine in Japan in the hopes that soon she would have someone to wear it. Five years later, the blue kimono was still collecting dust in her closet. After undergoing six fertility treatments, Shelley Kirilenko vowed never to let another needle puncture her body again. Then one day while walking through a village in the Swiss Alps, she happened upon a small, unadorned church. She went in and sat in one of the pews. From somewhere within a voice told her that she could not give up. What happens next is nothing short of a miracle. The Blue Kimono is a book about the Meaning of Life, Love, and Motherhood. It is a story of spiritual transformation that helped a woman fight for motherhood against all odds.
It's a rare book whose premise is fresh and interesting. It's an even rarer book that is exceptionally well-written, truly a joy to read. MY YEAR AS A JEW is such a book.
-Daniel Berman, author of The Newest Story of O: Secrets to Making the Credit System Work in Your Favor.
ABD was exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. It was a wonderful blend of mystery, drama, glimpses into academic politics, and enough romance to add spice.
The characters in Shelley Kirilenko's fine collection of stories, Evening in Missoula, individually march, careen, or stumble, but move inevitably toward that hinge between day and night, the eventide, when cumulous clouds tower into an infinite summer solstice sky, or hard Hellgate winter winds scour and glaze deserted streets.
-Robert Stubblefield, award-winning author and professor of creative writing at the University of Montana
The Blue Kimono is a refreshingly candid look at the emotional agony of infertility and assisted reproduction. [...] The writing is compelling from start to finish. I couldn't put the book down!
-Joni S. Mantell, Director, Infertility and Adoption Counseling Center, Pennington, NJ