Love and loathing in the Holy Land

Philip Wo­mack ad­mires the strange beauty of a de­but novel set in Is­rael

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Books -

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.

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