Cities On Hills: Seeking the Holy Land is a collection of thirty-two vignettes and poems that chronicle a month-long cultural exploration and archaeological dig in Israel/Palestine in 2000, the year before 9/11. The stories are told by a narrator ten years after her journey, reflecting back on her nineteen-year-old self and the impact the experience had on her world view and personal beliefs. The Holy Land itself is a vital character, informing and influencing the behaviors of the narrator and her dig team. Places in and around Jerusalem, Galilee, Bethlehem, as well as moments in Jordan, are pieced together like a loosely-structured photo album, functioning as a whole to offer a glimpse into a culture that many Americans are now reluctant to experience in a post-9/11 mindset.
Thematically, the stories and poems essentially revolve around seeking beauty and truth amidst violence and turmoil of the legendary, historic, and modern Holy Land, from the perspective of a rebellious outsider who desperately wants to be an insider. What constitutes historical truth versus myth? What part does rebellion play in seeking truth? The three parts—Jerusalem, Galilee, and Bethlehem—loosely trace the footsteps of Jesus Christ from resurrection to birth, metaphorical for the narrator's need to dig past the fairytales of her childhood and uncover their origins. For the most part, the narrator realizes that "truth" must be investigated and actively sought by the individual—that it is, in fact, her responsibility to do so.
The collection ends with a coming-of-age birthday party. Like the narrator's loss of her safety net, the naivety of the nameless American tourist is about to be wiped away in a year's time, with the bombing of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Eyes opened, she must now learn to live in a bigger, more brutal, more beautiful world.
It should be noted that this travel memoir is a work in progress. Future stories include two or three additional "rebellion" stories in Galilee that highlight other aspects of that region, and several stories in Bethlehem, including visiting Dar Al-Kalima Academy, examples of some of the violence that has since taken place, and touring the tombs beneath the Church of the Nativity—the location of the 2002 siege.