Di­vided by ge­og­ra­phy, war, and the lore of re­turn

All the Rivers

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Dorit Rabinyan doesn’t need the

Ser­pent’s Tail, £8.99

Re­viewed by Madeleine Kings­ley

ALL THE Rivers is that rara avis in to­day’s world — a banned book. Dorit Rabinyan’s novel of for­bid­den love between a Jewish aca­demic and an Arab artist was pro­scribed from school cur­ric­ula by Is­rael’s Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. Its val­ues were judged con­tra­dic­tory to those of the state. En­su­ing protest against in­tol­er­ance only added al­lure to a book (then called Border­life) that was al­ready a prizewin­ner.

But All the Rivers en­tice­ment of taboo: Liat and Hilmi’s hot­house af­fair in free, melt­ing-pot New York, se­duces on its own, rich de­scrip­tive mer­its. Rabinyan paints their coup de foudre with a po­etic and per­cep­tive touch that loses noth­ing in trans­la­tion. They meet by chance in the Café Aquar­ium but there is, from the start, a seem­ingly in­evitable end­date to their steamy cou­pling. It can en­dure only as long as the record-break­ingly frozen win­ter.

Both have re­turn tick­ets, he to Ra­mal­lah and she to her “pre­cious bustling

Dorit Rabinyan: for­bid­den love theme Is­raeli life” with its “fleets of tow­ers dom­i­nat­ing the sky”. The con­crete wall go­ing up back home, even as they bring down per­sonal bar­ri­ers, is a sym­bol of all that will sep­a­rate them psy­cho­log­i­cally, po­lit­i­cally and trib­ally.

Hilmi hopes that what they share will prove more than “a ges­ture lav­ished upon him capri­ciously by fate.” Liat feels jeal­ous of the real wife she fore­sees Hilmi will one day have. Yet she ad­mits to lack­ing the courage for “a heroic, in­con­ve­nient, de­fi­ant life” and keeps the fact of her crosstracks boyfriend a guilty se­cret from her Per­sian, Or­tho­dox fam­ily. “I dream about some­thing sim­ple,” she says, “a red roof and a cou­ple of kids, with some­one like me.”

As his­toric en­e­mies, Hilmi and Liat are pro­foundly dif­fer­ent, yet para­dox­i­cally fa­mil­iar strangers. They have grown up sur­rounded by the same olive groves un­der the same blue sky, tast­ing the same hum­mus and shawarma. They’ve lived with the same in­junc­tion not to waste wa­ter. They un­der­stand sus­pi­cion and fear: as a small girl, Liat walked to school with a pin in her hand to stab imag­i­nary Arab kid­nap­pers. Hilmi’s par­ents fled the Jericho refugee camp in ’67 and he was held for il­le­gal graf­fiti.

They fight over faith and fer­vour, over the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a one- or two-state so­lu­tion. One, ar­gues Hilmi, since all the rivers in their country flow into the same sea — a sea that re­stric­tions have al­lowed him to visit only three times in his life. Liat warms him with mem­o­ries of her favourite beach in Jaffa.

Friends in New York, re­mark how true and ten­der they are to­gether. Liat strength­ens his fragility, soothes his dis­turbed dream­ing and in­spires him to paint with self-be­lief.

And when she suc­cumbs to a vi­cious virus he nurses her with chicken soup, an­tibi­otics and fresh bed-linen.

Sum­mer finds both of them back home. But the drama of Rabinyan’s de­noue­ment is not as Liat hoped — that the Wall would serve as a “kind of pro­tec­tion from him miss­ing me, from me miss­ing him.” There is ap­pre­hen­sion, tinged with long­ing, that Hilmi may turn up in Jaffa, with the tide …

Madeleine Kings­ley is a free­lance writer


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