FICTION The Nakba novel that Is­rael took to its heart

HOME­SICK By Eshkol Nevo (trans: Son­dra Sil­ver­ston) Chatto & Win­dus, £11.99 RE­VIEWED BY DAVID HER­MAN

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

HAS ANY COUN­TRY since the Sec­ond World War pro­duced more great writ­ers per capita than Is­rael? Is­raeli writ­ers have punched above their weight for decades. But with Ap­pelfeld and Ye­hoshua now in their 70s, and Oz 70 next year, what of the next gen­er­a­tion? Does Is­rael have a new gen­er­a­tion of young writ­ers to match the ex­plo­sion of young Jewish writ­ers in Amer­ica?

Etgar Keret did con­sid­er­ably well last year with his book of short sto­ries, Miss­ing Kissinger, and now Chatto have pub­lished an­other young Is­raeli writer, Eshkol Nevo, au­thor of a book of sto­ries and two nov­els. Home­sick is the first to be trans­lated and has en­joyed out­stand­ing suc­cess, re­main­ing in the Is­raeli best­seller lists for over a year.

Amir and Noa are in their 20s. He is study­ing psy­chol­ogy in Tel Aviv and she is study­ing pho­tog­ra­phy in Jerusalem. They de­cide to live to­gether some­where half-way, an anony­mous lit­tle com­mu­nity in the mid­dle of nowhere. They move in next door to a Kur­dish bus driver and his wife and chil­dren. Then there’s Yo­tam, a young boy who lives with his par­ents. His older brother has just been killed in Le­banon.

The story is told in mini-chap­ters, each from the point of view of one of the char­ac­ters, so the per­spec­tive keeps chang­ing. Each time, it takes a mo­ment to work out who is talk­ing.

There is one other nar­ra­tor, Sad­diq, a Pales­tinian build­ing worker, whose mother used to live on this piece of land be­fore her fam­ily lost their home. This is the one in­stance of Is­raeli pol­i­tics ac­tu­ally com­ing home. Oth­er­wise, the pol­i­tics are in­sis­tent but dis­tant. Rabin is shot; an­other bus is blown up. Cou­ples fall in and out of love, bring up their chil­dren and buy gro­ceries.

This is not a state-of-Is­rael novel; peo­ple don’t dis­cuss the is­sues of the day. Yet it is a po­lit­i­cal novel none­the­less. The char­ac­ters’ ev­ery­day lives are af­fected by pol­i­tics all the time --- in the ar­gu­ments be­tween cou­ples; in in­di­vid­u­als’ anx­i­eties about their fu­tures.

An ex­cep­tion is Sad­diq. His loss is so great that there is no other life to get on with. Read­ers will dif­fer about him; they will ei­ther ad­mire the sen­si­tive treat­ment of the Pales­tinian ex­pe­ri­ence, or con­demn the sen­ti­men­tal­ity.

Home­sick is de­cent and hu­mane through­out and presents dif­fer­ent points of view — men and women, Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans — but a novel needs more than de­cency. No char­ac­ter, ex­cept per­haps the lonely Yo­tam mourn­ing his killed brother, seizes the imag­i­na­tion. And there is not one mem­o­rable, pow­er­ful sen­tence.

On the other hand, the gnaw­ing ques­tion re­mains: “What is hap­pen­ing to all that pain we don’t face?” The pain of los­ing a son in Le­banon, but also the qui­eter pain of a fam­ily de­cid­ing it has no fu­ture in Is­rael. Per­haps it is this very gen­tle­ness that has struck such a chord with read­ers in Is­rael. David Her­man is the JC’s chief fiction reviewer

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