The first week I got here, my housemate Yafa offered to lend me a book she'd been reading. She wanted to talk with me about it, and it wasn't a book I knew, so she offered to lend it to me as a prelude to conversation. But I was deep in a Peter Hessler book about China at the time, and didn't take her up on the offer.
The Hessler book is taking a while; his writing is dense, and there are a lot of details to parse. So this Shabbat I decided to set it aside in order to read other things. First on my list was the novel Yafa had wanted to lend to me. It's by Edeet Ravel, and it's called Ten Thousand Lovers. It's set in Israel during the 1970s; Lily, a young emigrant, falls in love with a man named Ami. Over the course of the book, as their relationship grows, both of them have to deal with the implications of what he does, and how his work fits in to the larger puzzle that is Israel.
A long time ago, when I was twenty, I was involved with a man who was an interrogator.
I met him on a Friday morning while hitchhiking from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I was studying at the university in Jerusalem but I always spent weekends in Tel Aviv because Jerusalem shut down at weekends and there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, was at its liveliest on Friday nights and Saturdays. That was the weekend: Friday night and all day Saturday. Sunday was an ordinary working day, and I had to be back for an early class...
That's how the book begins, and I found it mesmerizing all the way until the end.
I don't want to give anything away. The book is so well-crafted, and the pacing is so excellent, that I just want to urge you all to read it for yourselves (and then come back here and talk with me about it!)
I can tell you that there's deep love of Israel in these pages -- and also a real willingness to ask hard, even painful, questions. The characters feel real and believable, Israelis and Palestinians alike. It's set more than thirty years ago, but it feels contemporary. And it feels true to me in the way that all good novels are true: it's a reflection of real human emotional realities, and in places it takes my breath away.
Ravel spent early childhood on a kibbutz in northern Israel, and now lives in Canada. Her protagonist in this book was born on such a kibbutz, and then grew up in Canada prior to returning to Israel shortly before the book begins. So there may be some autobiographical resonance in Lily's story. But that doesn't make the book any less gorgeous, nor its conclusion any less powerful.
Anyway. If you're interested in Israel, in the matzav (Situation), or simply in excellent fiction about complicated people leading real lives, it's really worth a read.