Love and loathing in the Holy Land
Philip Womack admires the strange beauty of a debut novel set in Israel
thus rescuing scores and taking them back to Israel, where they promptly divorce. The only problem is that Yaacov, a man with such a forgettable face that he is regularly sent out to smuggle weapons, is paired with Bella, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Yaacov senses that here is his moment, and unlike the other men, he refuses to divorce. His wife has other ideas, and they are forced to live together, torn up with unrequited love on the one hand, and brimming with loathing on the other. When Bella bears the child of a poet, things get worse. The other characters’ lives play out in similar minor wars of attrition. Affairs are constant; both Yaacov and Zeev end up raising children who aren’t their own. All are waiting for something: whether it’s a woman on the shoreline, seeking her husband; or Yaacov, waiting for his wife to love him. Gundar-Goshen occasionally strays into the territory of magical realism: as when a man jumps into the sea and swims several miles to shore. These little moments add a strange kind of beauty to the texture, reminding us that the miraculous is only a step away from the mundane. There are many striking images, which often add to this quality: “Wicked animals leapt from Michael Katz’s mouth in herds and flocks and galloped into the house.” Although the final third, which examines the children of the main characters, shades into predictability, the ending reasserts itself. This is a fable for the 21st century, and Gundar-Goshen a writer whose dexterity proclaims her one to watch.