Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Israel. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

DNF | "House Arrest"

Noa Yedlin's novel בעלת הבית (House Arrest) won Israel's top literary prize in 2013. It's a novel that had been largely praised and admired, plus it seemed like Yedlin was an up-and-coming star I ought to actually read (I've had her earlier novel, Shelf Life unread for... years). It turned out that the same thing that kept me from ever actually getting around to reading Shelf Life (an odd pretentiousness that has kept me away, again, for literally 7ish years) kept me from getting into House Arrest.

The truth is, I abandoned House Arrest around a third of the way through not even because I thought I couldn't finish it. The style is clear enough that I probably could have managed to finish, plus there's a certain swiftness to the writing that makes it generally pretty "readable" (ah, that word). But here's the thing: I got stuck somewhere around a third, my attention drifting instead to other books. And when I came back to finish reading the book for my "partially read" challenge in the Great Book Buying Ban, I realized I didn't want to.

I didn't want to spend any more time with the insufferable characters that populate House Arrest, I didn't want to have to listen to the obnoxious main character (Asa), a man so pretentious I almost wished he really existed in real life just so I could smack him. I didn't want to spend any more time in a book that feels like it starts 70 pages too late, taking its time to "establish" the characters before getting to the drama that the back cover has already revealed.

One of the things I've been trying to work on in recent years is abandoning books more easily. And it's true, sometimes my motivations aren't entirely fair. Like here. House Arrest probably gets better not long after the point I abandoned it. I'm sure the internal character conflicts grow more interesting. Maybe even the characters themselves become less annoying (though I doubt it). I kept feeling like there was something I was missing; here is a novel that presents one of the more privileged portions of Israeli society, yet continuously casts them as hero-victims. There seemed to be such a huge dissonance between the world Yedlin expects me to recognize and the real world. This, I should note, is actually quite common in "well-received" Israeli literature, particularly of the sort that wins the Sapir prize (indeed, I rarely like the books they select, and even those I did like fit this description).

And so... I abandoned House Arrest. Maybe someday in the (far off) future I'll try to read it again. For now, I have removed the bookmark, placed the book on a high, far-off shelf, and dusted my hands.

Monday, August 13, 2018

WITMonth Day 13 | "The Option" | Translate This Book

I never seem to start with the right book. Author Yael Neeman became a bestselling, household name author in 2011, with the novel We Were the Future that details the lives of children coming of age in a Kibbutz (autobiographic, by all accounts). Yet when a collection of her short stories became available a few years later, that was, for some odd reason, the book that I ended up buying and reading. And liking.

It's hard to review short story collections, particularly when those collections were written in another language and I have little with which to describe them. How can I explain that despite my notoriously terrible memory, the first story (which translates to "Barrenness") has lingered with me for literal years? How can I explain that Neeman's writing has an edge to it that is simultaneously brilliantly sharp, but also delightfully light?

I'll say this, briefly: I didn't love all of the stories in The Option (כתובת אש). There were a few that I skimmed through, because they tired me. But even as some of the stories didn't jive well with my personal style, they were all interesting and Neeman managed to avoid that oh-so-frustrating pitfall that many single-author collections have by creating a series of truly distinct stories. Some of the stories are heartbreaking, some are melancholic, some are whimsically tragic, some are just weird, and some are, yes, forgettable. Overall, though, she creates a truly enjoyable, well-written collection. It makes me want to read We Were the Future as soon as I can get my hands on it, to experience what was supposed to have been my introduction to a talented writer's works. It makes me want to read her latest work, just recently released. I've got what to look forward to.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Translate this book | Amilam by Hila Arazi-Hatav

I've got to say, this one surprised me. I bought it years ago at Hebrew Book Week, I think to complete a 1+1 sort of deal, something purchased in the early days of my WIT awakening. It languished on my shelves until now, and honestly I don't think I ever really processed what the book was supposed to be about. It existed, barely, at the corner of my awareness. But TGBBBOT means that I'm reading a lot more "forgotten" titles from my shelves, and so it came to be that I read Hila Arazi-Hatav's Amilam. And liked it a lot.

This is a novel split into two voices, but they're rather surprising ones at that. The narration begins with Leah, mother of two, whose life feels like it's beginning to fray at the edges. Leah's husband, Yoel, is on a prolonged business trip after months of difficult unemployment, hoping to find redemption at a foreign conference. Leah narrates her troubled thoughts to the husband that isn't there, increasingly exhausted by the strain of her mother's Alzheimer's and a sudden, unexpected pregnancy. Thrown into the mix is her older daughter Noa, the second narrator, who seems to also be slipping off the grid lately. Noa disappears for hours, is distracted at school, and seems disconnected from reality.

But as Noa's narration begins to match her mother's, it becomes clear that Noa is not simply a lazy, delinquent 12-year old, rather she is singularly concerned with keeping her grandmother healthy so that the "cousins" from Paris - twin brothers, one of whom molested Noa several times on their previous visit - have no reason to come. Noa's fear for her grandmother Elsa's health leads her to take on increasingly drastic measures, from having her best friend pretend to be Elsa's long-dead son (Noa's uncle) in order to convince Elsa to take her medication, to grinding up pills and mixing them in with the sugar, to coming up with plans for a "trap" for whichever of the brothers it is that might come into Noa's bedroom at night.

The tone, unsurprisingly, switches fairly drastically between Noa and Leah, though the stakes remain high in both cases. Noa, unlike her mother, is not unraveling quite as much as she is fighting a losing war. Her concerns jump from caring for her grandmother to whether her class will win the soccer game against the other class. She misses her father, vaguely, but seems to have no comprehension of communicating with her parents (and from Leah's end, it becomes clear that Leah and Yoel have little idea how to communicate with Noa). For Leah, as much as things are crumbling, she manages to keep a fairly firm grasp. Yet on the inside, she describes a sense of loss and confusion, abandonment and hopelessness.

The writing style for both narrators is simple, though in different ways. Noa thinks in simple terms, rarely getting too wrapped up in her own thoughts, but often looping back to the same concepts and thoughts. Leah is the opposite, imagining herself talking to her too-absent husband (and though this business trip is fairly short, it seems to represent a wider gap in her marriage that she simply doesn't know how to explain), wrapped up intensely in a widening range of contemplations. Both styles feel very conversational without being simplified. Later in the book, as Noa begins to narrate semi-fictional accounts of Elsa's past to her, Noa also switches to narrating to her grandmother. The shift leads to a slight change in style, accordingly, with the greater complexity suggesting that Noa has absorbed some of how these stories were told to her.

It's difficult for me to say what it is that works so well about Amilam. It's not that this is the most original story, yet it feels fresh. It's not the most original writing technique, yet it ends up working remarkably well. Amilam didn't win any awards and I imagine has largely been forgotten by Israeli readers. Yet I liked it, a lot. Part of it may have to do with the fact that I just recently lost my own grandmother to Alzheimer's and pieces of Leah/Noa's experiences rang too true. Part of it may have to do with the way the book made me feel very strongly for both Leah and Noa; by the end of the book, I just wanted to hug both of them and yell at them "TALK TO EACH OTHER".

This is a novel that takes place over an intense week, but it digs deep into its characters. It's the sort of book that has carved out a little corner in my mind, and I've been turning it over over the past day since I finished reading it. I think it could very well do the same for other readers.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

WITMonth Day 27 | "And the Bride Closed the Door" by Ronit Matalon

It's been a whole, long WITMonth... and I haven't spoken about an Israeli writer yet. Let's talk a bit about Ronit Matalon, shall we? Bit really... only a bit.

See, I first encountered Ronit Matalon with The Sound of Their Steps, which came strongly recommended by a bookseller. I... didn't love it, mostly for the style, but it was undoubtedly good literature. Fast forward a few years, and And the Bride Closed the Door comes out. It is short, crisp, and good. Subtly political. Wholly personal. Emotionally engagimg. Quietly revolutionary. This is a novella that has a little bit of everything to it, in mostly the right amounts (a few jokes about a clearly queer cousin fall very flat) - a bride who abruptly announces that she's not getting married (day of), family trauma, love, obligation, poetry and more.

My favorite part is the balance between personal and political. Unlike The Soumd of Their Steps, in which the politics felt very direct, here they sneak in gently, while tackling similar themes of class and ethnicity. The difference in length also makes a difference, with And the Bride Closed the Door raising more issues than it claims to solve.

I promised a brief review, so here it is: Here is a novella that well deserves a home in English (and other languages). Remember it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The struggle of short story collections | Nasreen Jahan and Gail Hareven

This is an odd confession and one that makes me slightly uncomfortable, but... I struggle with a lot of single-author short story collections. As I've mentioned in past reviews, many collections start to feel dragged down for me because of their repetitive styles and themes. Kjell Askildsen, for example, lost me when every single story ran along the exact same threads and ideas. Even authors I love - like Tove Jansson - lose me relatively quickly once the stories start to feel like they follow the same mold. It's not that the individual stories are themselves bad, it's just that... they're basically the same story again and again, with a different wrapping.

This happened to me again recently, with two collections: Nasreen Jahan's slim A Temporary Sojourn and Other Stories, and the most recent short story collection from Gail Hareven (in Hebrew: אנשים טועים, or "People Fail"). Jahan's collection - kindly provided to me via the publisher and translated by multiple translators - struck me instantly as an interesting collection that I couldn't delve into in one go. Small as the book is (and brief as the stories are), I just couldn't sink into it. Reading three stories in a row, I felt like they had blended into each other. Even as the different translators produced a slightly different effect for the stories, it felt like Jahan was examining the same story from slightly different angles. Extremely interesting, but... not necessarily something I want to read in one go.

And that feeling continued, even as I revisited the stories in pieces. I loved how Jahan focused on women's stories and the slightly more fantastical pieces, but at times it was a bit difficult to disentangle the stories from each other. After finishing the collection, the stories seemed blended - I know that I read many different accounts of lives in Bangladesh, but I didn't feel like any single story stood out or distinguished itself from the bunch. Part of this, I suspect, has to do with the pretty stark differences between the translators' different styles - while Jahan's story structures felt similar, the writing didn't always feel like it came from the same author and the balance was perhaps thus skewed.

I had a slightly different experience with Gail Hareven's latest, which I'm currently reading. This new short story collection, so far, is entirely written in a conversational style. Every. Single. Story. The first story - though I didn't like the subject matter or narrator much - felt like a revelation. Such a cool style! So casual and comfortable. The next story improved on the style, chatting easily about a completely different topic. As did the next. And the next. And the next...

And so though the story plots themselves stand out surprisingly well, the style begins to feel tedious. Is this an exercise on Hareven's part? Is she simply exploring every possible character with this style? Part of me feels that I ought to commend the collection for playing so blatantly with an unconventional style, but I also find it exhausting. Though the narrators are different from each other, the conversational aspect makes everyone sound just a bit more alike than they would in any other storytelling format. I find myself itching to read through a story from another angle, not simply have a story told at me.

Jahan and Hareven's collections have their obvious merits and I would not for a moment want to take away from them. But I can't help that feeling of "can't I get something just a bit different?" On the one hand, a short story collection with too many changes in style or structure will feel cobbled together and poorly designed. On the other hand, these collections feel repetitive in a way that detracts from the strengths of the individual stories.

Some collections manage to avoid either pitfall, but these are often exceptions. Clarice Lispector's Complete Stories, for example, is a book I've both read through in large chunks and one I've visited sporadically (I'm about halfway through, and remain in awe of Lispector's ability to write completely different stories with a completely unique feeling and yet her distinct style throughout). But Lispector is a unique case of an author whose entire body of work rather feels like a masterclass in short story writing. Most writers fall somewhere in the range between Jahan and Hareven, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just sometimes a bit harder to work through.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

WITMonth Day 5 - Classics Challenge - Lea Goldberg's And This is the Light

It's rather stunning that I'm two years into a project regarding women writers in translation (and women writers in general), and this is the first time I've ever read Lea Goldberg, one of Israel's most prominent poets. What's more shocking is that I started not from her poems (though technically I suppose I must have read some as a child, since she is a popular children's book writer and many of her poems have been used as song lyrics...), rather her single novel. Indeed, it turns out to be a strange place to start...

And This is the Light is an odd novel. First and foremost, I find myself incredibly curious as to how it was translated into English - one of its most notable traits in Hebrew is the distinctly old-fashioned style. Written in 1942 in a still-new Hebrew (from a literary perspective, at least), And This is the Light is a strange mash-up of familiar modern terminology (not the aloof Hebrew of either ancient literature or historical fiction), yet it's also clearly not the literary Hebrew which would follow only fifteen years down the line (significantly more down-to-earth and conversational, though written Hebrew remains far more formal than spoken). And This is the Light reads archaic and nostalgic for a language which never quite existed, and sometimes the words felt so strange in my mouth. It was like reading a novel from the 17th century, not just from fifty years before I was born.

It's a strange novel from the plot perspective as well, mainly because... it doesn't have one. And This is the Light is a novel of feelings more than anything, a character study of the young Nora going through a specific (rough) transition period in her life. Yet it's not quite a coming-of-age story either - Nora doesn't change much throughout the story, rather she seems to accept certain facts about the world and herself.

These could all mean that And This is the Light would fail as a novel, but it surprisingly enough doesn't. Goldberg's style is unsurprisingly lyrical, and Nora's introspection is lovely. She's not a flawless character of pure perfection, but her struggles and emotional turmoil felt decidedly real. Her thoughts on her place on the world, on her perspectives, on her own health and happiness, and especially as regards her position relative to others resonated deeply with me. It helps that the novel has solid pacing and a wonderful flow.

Nora's feelings are not unique - she's a very ordinary young woman, guided by her emotions along familiar tracks. Her romantic inclinations are predictable, but also distinctly restrained: the novel makes room for Nora's fantasies, but also keeps them distinctly in check. There's a sense that Goldberg was writing to remind young readers (perhaps her past self?) that sometimes life isn't just that fairy tale you wish it would be.

I want to note two interesting points. The first is that despite being written in the midst of the Holocaust, And This is the Light hardly addresses matters of either anti-Semitism or Zionism. Nora briefly discusses her Zionist tendencies (she is studying archaeology with the express purpose of going to Israel/Palestine), but it's portrayed as a clearly far-off event in Nora's life. The second is that And This is the Light is much more about internal feelings than externally expressed ones. There's an expectation, and little fulfillment. I don't want to ruin aspects of the novel, but suffice to say that despite the familiarity of And This is the Light's story, Goldberg avoids common plot points neatly.

And I liked the book. I did. I liked the writing, and despite knowing that I'd probably dislike Nora if I ever met her in person, I found it interesting to see the world through her fairly naive eyes. It's not the foremost literary classic out there, but it's an interesting early Israeli novel (that is distinctly European) and a great example of what happens when poets write novels (spoiler alert: they write beautifully).

Friday, August 15, 2014

WITMonth Day 15 - Translate these books

It would be strange of me to go through a whole month discussing women writers in translation without also talking about those women writers I don't actually read in translation, but don't read in English either. To be honest, I haven't actually read very many books by Israeli women, a curiosity which I've been trying to understand and explore over the past few months.

I've started to fix that recently, and though this list won't be particularly long (because I have not had the opportunity to truly dig deep), I thought I'd highlight a couple interesting and or particularly translation-worthy books.

The first is the inaugural (and thus far only) title in the "translate this book" tag - Bella Shaier's Children's Mate. This collection of three stories is absolutely brilliantly written, and casts such a fascinating light on different aspects of Israeli and immigrant societies. Feel free to check out my full recommendation for more.

The second is a book I'm not sure I'd define as having liked, but it was very interesting, particularly in the portrait it painted of a younger, less traditional Israel - Kinneret Rosenbloom's Loves' Story (I've seen references to other possible English titles, so please take this with a grain of salt). It's a novel unlike most translated into English - it's not a post-modern musing, nor is it a political piece. This is the sort of book I could easily see translating well, not least because much of its approach and style is very Anglo, while its attitude is purely Israeli (and purely Tel Aviv Israeli at that). I had several issues with it as a novel (and with certain stylistic and thematic choices I could not for the life of me understand the need to include), but it was the sort of book that clung to me and kept me hooked throughout.

Next up is a recent release - Inverted Cry, by Celine Assayag. Inverted Cry is the latest in a long line of Israeli child-of-immigrant stories, always emerging just as that generation is coming into its own adulthood. In this case, we have Assayag's presentation of the poverty of Bat Yam (a city near Tel Aviv) in the 1970s (when she herself would have grown up). The story is loose and messy at times, with certain scenes and incidents happening in ways that don't always make sense, and small inconsistencies that I simply couldn't figure out. But its core is very, very good. There's a lot of sharp social commentary, and an important presentation of underrepresented portions of Israeli society. Assayag doesn't shy away from discussing the actual impact of immigration either, with constant references to the previous life in Egypt, and parallel family in France.

Finally, I'd like to address a few authors whose books I personally did not enjoy very much, but who have achieved great acclaim in Israel without getting translated into English. These include women like Lea Aini, whose novel Lebanon Rose was a little drawn-out for my taste, but was quickly lauded in Israel by almost all critics, or Ronit Matalon's The Sound of our Steps (which deals with themes very similar to those in Inverted Cry, yet predates it by several years) which was recognized as one of the best Israeli books of the decade. We also have authors I have enjoyed (like Gail Hareven), who had one book translated into English (to great acclaim, I should add) and none of her other brilliant works touched.

And then there are hundreds of other Israeli women writers I simply haven't gotten around to. Yes, Hebrew is generally overrepresented in translations relative to the population, but if we're already going to be translating so much out of it, I would love to see more of our brilliant women writers getting the stage as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Translate This Book | Children's Mate by Bella Shaier

Background: Children's Mate by Bella Shaier is an Israeli book originally published in 2011 by the New Library. It's comprised of three stories: the eponymous opening novella "Children's Mate", a shorter novella "Galit and Gordon", and finally a short story "Double".

What it's about: The main story is the opening novella, itself a collection of five stories that follow a group of children in a Soviet apartment complex. The stories are fairly independent of each other (with recurring characters, and the shared complex of course), but together form a fascinating and touching portrait of childhood (and particularly Jewish childhood) in the Soviet Union. "Galit and Gordon" tells the story of an Israeli couple across decades, presenting a perspective on class, race, and love. "Double", meanwhile, tackles immigration and position, as well as aging and disability... all in the span of ten pages.

Why it deserves to be translated: Children's Mate is a curiously broad book. It has an interesting story continuity, from the early pages which deal with childhood (indeed, specifically early childhood, with none of our children passing age six), to the middle story which looks at an unlikely and passive couple from early adulthood through to middle age, and finally to an older woman whose struggles make her position almost as precarious as that of a child's. More interesting is the fact that each of these stories centers around a different status of character - children (particularly of Jewish origin) in the Soviet Union, ordinary Israeli adults in Tel Aviv, and Russian new immigrant to Israel who speaks neither the language nor sees particularly well, instead forced to rely on others to get by.

Truth be told, it's the two outside stories that deserve more attention. "Galit and Gordon" is a familiar sort of story about relationships and growth, but with an interesting background about Israeli culture clashes that still doesn't make the story quite enough to justify translation on its own. However, the truly brilliant "Children's Mate" does, and I think that's the sort of story that can belong anywhere.

"Children's Mate" is fascinating for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it does an excellent job of getting in the mind of its child characters, without making those either unnaturally precocious or simplistically unrealistic. The kids sound and think like children their age would, misunderstanding adults and struggling with new realizations just as I remember from my own childhood. Shaier finds a fantastic balance between telling the children's stories and showing us the grown-up world around them, revealing to us painful adult truths through the eyes of those who don't fully understand the consequences yet.

Shaier's particular emphasis on Jewish children is especially revealing - we see a series of small incidents with small Jewish children living in a coldly anti-Semitic Soviet Union, sometimes recognizing incidents as what they are, sometimes misconstruing them as children often do. One of the little girls at some point mulls over the differences between the different Jewish children in the building, noting her luck that unlike a different character, her parents don't speak Yiddish to each other and so her Jewishness isn't apparent to the other children.

Finally, "Double" tells a frank, painful story about a new immigrant in Israel, facing struggles at home with her son-in-law (whose decision to move to Israel essentially forced her out of her home), struggles with learning a new language, struggles with her deteriorating eyesight, and ultimately a fundamental struggle leading a normal life. In ten precise pages, Shaier presents an entire world rarely given much attention - that of the immigrant who has not successfully integrated into Israeli society. This story works best understanding Israeli demands of integration (and a generational expectation when it comes to language and culture), but I think it stands alone as an excellent assessment of immigration struggles, as well as aging.

Translate this book! Children's Mate is a wonderfully written book, spanning topics and generations and issues. It's interesting, intelligent and does not rely too much on a certain cultural understanding, while simultaneously introducing readers to different ideas and worlds. The writing is consistently clear, with a style that adjusts subtly according to the type of story - childlike in "Children's Mate", coolly mature in "Galit and Gordon", and quietly uncertain in "Double". This is an excellent example of Israeli literature, well-deserving of a wider audience and greater appreciation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review | Between Friends

Between Friends... between friends
Readers may recall a few months ago I read Amos Oz's The Black Box, saying that I was debating between reading that book and... this one - Between Friends (בין חברים). Reading The Black Box was a thoroughly interesting, but also somewhat uncomfortable feeling. I wanted to recommend the book, but I didn't like it. I was fascinated by it, but I hadn't enjoyed it at all. And I knew that it wasn't like Scenes from Village Life, which I had really enjoyed.

Between Friends is in some ways much more like Scenes from Village Life than The Black Box. This is mostly because of its format - like Oz's earlier book, Between Friends is a collection of short stories about a certain place, where characters appear and reappear throughout, and where the location is more of a main character than anyone else. Scenes from Village Life used a level of distance to tell a story about modern Israeli life; Between Friends goes back in time to the kibbutz of the fifties.

But here Between Friends finds a major similarity with The Black Box. Unlike Scenes from Village Life which had some perfectly crafted stories and characters I immediately felt connected with, Between Friends is filled with utterly unsympathetic characters in frustrating situations. The stories made me feel thoroughly uncomfortable; I honestly didn't want to spend much more time with this kibbutz and its inhabitants. But I did, because despite its rougher edges, Oz's writing is compelling and compulsively engaging. As always, his writing is distinctly "not-beautiful", but... it's worth reading.

The historical setting of this one sets it apart from either of Oz's previous novels that I've read. Between Friends takes advantage of the shadow of the Israeli War of Independence, in regards to the political situation in Israel as well as its socioeconomic situation. Oz uses his foresight as a modern author to play with the concept of the kibbutzim's socialism, through the prophecies of a dedicated founder of the kibbutz, or the hard-line beliefs of one of its prominent members, or the casual acknowledgement of its changing future from its young-generation secretary. Oz uses his distance to gently emphasize the future that is to come, but oddly enough he casts no judgement one way or the other. Oz's voice is usually a dry, almost dead tone behind his characters; this time he seemed even more unresponsive than usual.

I can't help but compare Between Friends to both The Black Box and Scenes from Village Life. In structure, it is similar to the latter; in my tepid but intrigued response to it, it is much more like The Black Box, except I think I got more from The Black Box than I did from Between Friends, which felt a bit like a weak imitation of Scenes from Village Life for me. It can work as an introduction to Oz, certainly, and it's not a bad book by any means. But it's not particularly likable either, as accomplished as it may be. In other words... it's a book by Amos Oz. Difficult to classify, but recommended reading.

-------

Finally, a minor quibble. When I first saw the translated title on the inside cover of the Hebrew edition*, my immediate instinct was to correct what I felt was a bad translation. I hoped it was a temporary title. Now that I realize that Between Friends is indeed the final title, I'll only mention as a side-note that I personally would have translated the title as Among Friends - like many Israeli titles, there's an air of ambiguity to the original Hebrew. But this is entirely irrelevant.

* Hebrew books almost always (always) have an English version of the title inside. This isn't always the actual title once (if) the book is translated into English, but it often is.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A disappointing underdog | Thoughts

So I've been reading this fairly slim Israeli, independently published poetry collection for just over a month now. I'm not done yet. In fact, I'm only two-thirds of the way through. The book - with its bright orange cover - mocks me from my bedside. I can't seem to finish it.

I know poetry collections aren't like novels. Novels usually need to be read straight through - stops along the way break up the flow and generally make it harder for me to appreciate the book. Poetry isn't like that. Poetry can be read in pieces, spread out across years and years. And yet there's something about reading a poetry collection straight through that thrills me. Reading Sylvia Plath's The Colossus a few weeks back was like that - exhilaration and excitement at the way the poems fit together but didn't overlap. The way they didn't repeat themselves. The way they each stood out.

There's something about rooting for the underdog. It's like the love for all things indie, or strange literature, or translated books, or all of the above. A small, Israeli published poetry collection? Underdog laws say I ought to praise it highly, recommend it to all my friends, spread the word. But I can't, and I feel guilty for it.

The reason I can't is because the collection is, for lack of a better term, boring. The language is lovely and the poems have a great sound when read aloud, but they are lacking heart, diversity and fire. Religious half-themes crop up frequently, but rather emptily, more for their vocabulary than for their actual soul. And personal references are rather detached and emotionless. These poems are bland - not dull and certainly not badly written, but nothing worth mentioning by name and certainly not worth reading in one sitting. They are repetitive. They do not move me.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday links


  • A great post about the impact of eReading on one's reading habits - for me, eReading will never be able to fully replace print (for practical reasons, among which is the fact that my eReader doesn't support Hebrew), but generally speaking, Greg is spot on. Not only has the eLibrary (in part because of its limited scope...) introduced me to books I might otherwise not have read, I've also started reading books concurrently, leading to, yes, more books read.

  • Israel is the guest of honor at this year's Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL), with plans for several very popular Israeli writers to be stopping by - it sounds like a trip to Hebrew Book Week, except with all the good authors there at the same time, and with a lot, lot, lot more people attending.

  • The stats on U.S. children's books reveal that most main characters are white, despite clearly changing demographics. One theory seems to be "diversity doesn't sell", but... I'm not buying it. This is something that needs to change.

  • The short lists are out for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, and as always I'm just thrilled that this award exists, if only to remind people that sci-fi and fantasy are not, have never been, and should never be an exclusively Anglo affair.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why have I written to you? | Black Box

"New or old?" This was the question I asked myself as I stared at the two books on the shelf. The bookstore offered autographed copies of Amos Oz's newest collection of short stories (בין חברים - Between Friends) and a new edition of his older Black Box. After several minutes deliberation, I chose Black Box. Not because I hoped that a more established title of Oz's would necessarily be better. Rather, Between Friends is another short story collection and I wasn't sure I was over the wonderful Scenes from Village LifeBlack Box, being an epistolary novel, seemed to be about as far from the wonderful constraints of a short story collection as possible.

Yes and no.

I've known for years that my mother - the original voracious reader in the family - did not like Amos Oz or his writing style. When mentioned that I had liked - even loved - Scenes from Village Life, she was surprised. She dismissed his sharp, often coarse writing style as compared to the more elegant A. B. Yehoshua, or to the exceedingly readable Meir Shalev, or to David Grossman's emotional lyricism. Oz's style, by her measure, simply couldn't hold up. And for the most part, I agree with her assessment. Oz writes more bluntly than many of his Israeli counterparts. But it doesn't matter, because one thing is clear - Oz is an author in perfect command of his writing. Black Box is an excellent example of this.

Scenes from Village Life was special in large part because of the way Oz seemed to know exactly when to end his stories. There was a perfect level of suspense in each, wrapped up cleanly into small stories that drove me to keep reading. Though Black Box obviously has a larger narrative, this same care applies to each aspect of the novel-in-letters. Though the letters may sometimes drag on for longer than I would want/expect, it's obvious that Oz knows exactly what his characters need to say, and how.

Black Box revolves around the collapsed marriage of Alex and Ilana. At the start of the novel, Ilana is contacting Alex (a well-known professor living abroad) for the first time in seven years, asking for his assistance with their angry, often violent teenage son Boaz. Ilana's writing style is clean, one-sided and lyrical. We immediately get the impression that there's more to the story than what Ilana is sharing, and as the novel progresses, we learn about why Ilana and Alex got their divorce (with Alex completely cutting off ex-wife and son). Ilana is meanwhile remarried to Michael (Michel), whose influence on the story grows alongside Alex's re-involvement in his ex-family's life.

The story is mostly told through letters between these four major characters, with the occasional correspondence between Alex and his lawyer, clippings from Alex's notes on military history or literature, and occasionally letters from other family members. Oz does a brilliant job of switching between characters, on a level I don't think I've ever encountered in an epistolary novel. If normally the reader needs to be told who is narrating the letter before beginning to read it, in Black Box each letter-writer is so clearly distinct from one another that within the first few lines, it's obvious who is writing to whom.

For example, Ilana, as I mentioned, writes pretty. Hers is a literary style; she invokes long, beautifully written passages meditating over her impressions on what Alex is doing at any given moment. She quotes entire conversations comfortably, as though writing a novel. But her letters feel like novels in other regards as well. Ilana is an unreliable narrator, admitting to certain lies and omissions from one letter to the next, gradually letting down her guard as the story progresses. Boaz, meanwhile, writes with numerous spelling errors. His style is loose, colloquial, bad. He writes like you would expect a poorly educated teenager to write.

There is no external narration in Black Box. Most of what we know about the characters is either through their writing style or through secondhand accounts. The only character who really describes her own life is Ilana, but she herself casts doubt on most of what she says. We know she is intelligent, manipulative, and passionate from her writing style, just as we know her husband Michel is religious, single-minded and vaguely possessive from his own accounts. Alex, meanwhile, comes off as stiff and cold, whether in his sharp telegrams to his harassed lawyer or in his long, oddly pained letters to the other characters.

Though each character is thoroughly unappealing, together their letters create a clear sense of intimacy between reader and fiction. Each character frustrated me for other reasons: Boaz for his aggression and impulsive view of the world, Michel for his method of applying his political beliefs, his hypocrisy and his sexism (in general, there's an uncomfortable thread of sexism running through Black Box), Alex for his violence and coldness, Ilana for her manipulations, lies and generally victimized perspective... These are people I wouldn't want to deal with in real life, but I was nonetheless drawn into their world through Oz's clear-minded writing. I cared, even if I sort of wished I didn't have to.

I didn't love Black Box. I don't think I ever could. It's hard to love a book when its characters are so unappealing or when it brushes against politics so lightly without really revealing its true feelings. But it's also hard not to like a book that creates such a strong level of intimacy between these awful characters. Past the halfway mark of the book, I felt almost overwhelmed by one of the letters: Ilana is recounting the beginning of her relationship with Alex, her former army commander. Reading what felt like such a personal, intimate letter unnerved me, unsettled me entirely. Worse are the moments from the other end - Michel's impassioned, almost fanatical letters to Boaz felt a little too believable. By the end of the book, I had to remind myself that these were fictional characters. I had to remind myself this because an already grim story turned even more inwards. The effect was... powerful. This is not as easy a book to recommend as Scenes from Village Life, but yes - it is recommended.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bad translation of the week

Bad translations can ruin a book. It's a sad fact of life. As someone who has dealt with translations myself, I know how hard it must be to do a book justice - managing to maintain both tone and style, while making sure the writing fits the new language and its many nuances. Translating is tough stuff, but it still stings a little when a good book is poorly translated, and suffers at the hands of its new audience as a result.

Case study no. 5062: The Buddha in the Attic. A lovely, wonderfully written short novel that I really, really looked forward to seeing in Hebrew. Here was an easily accessible, interesting, and well-written book that I could recommend to readers. Today, I finally got the chance to flip through the translation and... well. It stumbles. Seriously stumbles.

Because part of what makes The Buddha in the Attic such an original book is its use of first-person plural. This is not easy to replicate, particularly not in a different language. So it turns out that the clean and powerful style that Julie Otsuka crafted in English turns into a bit of a mess in Hebrew. The "we"s become a little too casual, a little too obvious, a little too abrasive. The long sentences no longer breathe, but shudder. The tone is completely different, and it won't surprise me if readers will outright hate the book as a result. Which is just a shame. It reminds me that no matter how much I'd like to think that I'm aware of how the translation changes the text, there are cases I'll never be able to recognize, and sometimes these translations really do make all the difference in the world...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Who's your audience? | Second Person Singular

Though I have my issues with Sayed Kashua's Second Person Singular (chief among which is a disturbingly spoiler filled back-cover blurb that includes a quote from literally the last ten pages of this 300-paged book...), it struck me as a very intelligent, well-written novel. The message seemed clear, the implications obvious. Yet when I started to read various foreign appraisals of the novel, it seemed that many readers did not understand the book as I did.

Here's what I think: Kashua writes for an Israeli audience. Predominantly a Jewish-Israeli audience. Just like his columns in the Ha'aretz Weekend Supplement are geared towards Israelis, Second Person Singular is written in a tone that indicates its audience rather comfortably. Too comfortably, at times.

Second Person Singular is all about the characters' external image, not so much their internal identity. The fact is that this is a novel about two Palestinian men, yet neither places much importance on their personal identity. One character builds his entire world view in order to appear a certain way; the other character sheds his identity with hardly a backward glance. It's all about how they appear to the outside world: one of the characters comments (somewhat dispassionately) on the fact that when using a Jewish (Ashkenazi) name, he is taken for an Ashkenazi Jew without anyone asking questions.

It's this use of external image that hammers home Kashua's cultural and social points. Not only does Kashua highlight the differences between Israeli and Palestinian society, he gently points out a lot of standard Israeli racism. An Arab looking for work will be assigned as a dishwasher in the kitchen. The exact same man - using a Jewish name - will find a job as a waiter. Kashua stresses this point without exaggerating it, such that the Israeli reader will feel the necessary shame without being overwhelmed. Kashua's use of young, liberal Israelis later in the novel also creates this weird incongruity that sat oddly with me.

Second Person Singular is written with that strange feeling in mind. Kashua aims to tap Israeli readers in that place where culture clashes. It's mostly effective, but it's geared towards a fairly well-defined group. Presented as it is now to the greater world, I can easily imagine how many readers would find it to be a distinctly odd, offset read.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How Hebrew changed my reading habits

Readers of this blog will know that I'm a bilingual reader. I frequently post about Israeli novels, publishing and news, and will occasionally also post about translated fiction I read in Hebrew that has yet to be published in English. Hebrew has become as natural a part of my reading life as English ever was.

Except.

It wasn't always like this. Just until four years ago, the number of books I read in Hebrew per year was two, as opposed to some seventy-eighty books in English. English was, and remains, my dominant language for reading and writing. Yet as the years go by, the gap has narrowed. If in 2008 I read only two Hebrew-language books, in 2009 I read ten, in 2010 thirteen, and in 2011 seventeen. So far in 2012, I'm on my twelfth Hebrew book. This remains mindblowing to me.

I read much slower in Hebrew than in English. I read more precisely and perhaps in a more discriminatory manner. I abandon books more easily. Reading in Hebrew remains a minor difficulty, if only because I cannot rip through the book at the pace I am used to English. It shakes things up. But something has happened since I started reading more books in Hebrew: I've started to slow down my English reading pace as well. I've started to apply many of the same rules I use in Hebrew for books I read in English.

Reading in Hebrew has changed my habits. It couldn't have been any other way. The fact that I spent more time on certain books than others meant that I was appreciating stylistic choices more in Hebrew-language books than English. I realized that a lot of this enjoyment had to do with the more deliberate reading approach, as well as the laid-back pace. Reading in Hebrew has made me appreciate language and an author's writing style a lot more. It's helped me understand what makes certain books better than others. And that is a gift as wonderful as the books themselves.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Scenes from Village Life

My need to read something by Amos Oz has been growing for several years. It seemed unreasonable to me that I had not read anything by one of the classic Israeli novelists simply because growing up I had no books in my house (my mother doesn't like his writing style). With many of the gaps in my Hebrew literary knowledge filled, it seemed time to tackle Oz and see what all the fuss is about. I chose a relatively recent publication - Scenes from Village Life (תמונות מחיי הכפר) - and read it last weekend.

Scenes from Village Life is another in a long line of short story collections that centers around a certain character or locale. In this case, it's the latter: Tel Ilan is a small Israeli village filled with slightly offbeat characters and stories that revolve around strange and vaguely unbelievable occurrences. There's an air of distance and fantasy to the whole book, a kind of gentle mockery of the entire concept of the collection.

Scenes from Village Life is unlike many short story collections in that its opening story is its weakest. Upon reread it improves somewhat, but it opens the book on a distinctly odd note. Luckily, the following story "Relations" is simply superb. It may be one of the finest short stories I've ever read. The underlying anxiety, the gentle focus on family and familial love, and the slow, quiet pace are all incredibly done and by the story's end, I knew that Scenes from Village Life was going to be worth the read.

And it was. Each story is a bit twisted and strange and incomplete, but they fit together wonderfully to form the overall book. The writing, true, is a bit blunter than some of Israel's other literary masters, but Oz's ability to create a character with whom the reader can relate in so few pages is nothing short of astounding. Truthfully, Oz doesn't even need that much embellishment - the fictional Tel Ilan's vagueness can make it anyplace so much easier. That idyllic, pastoral impression that is constantly mentioned is the cracking outer edge of a concept that is infinitely more complex and universal.

What struck me most of all was how not-Israeli the majority of the characters are. Their setting, their anxieties, and their existence are purely Israeli, yes, but their personalities felt a little off. With the exception of the former politician in "Digging" whose reminiscing fits a certain mold , none of the characters fill the familiar Israeli stereotypes and as such feel somewhat foreign. For an Israeli reader, this enhances the distance Oz creates between reader, setting and character. I'm not sure what an international reader would get from this subtle characterization.

I can see why some readers don't like Amos Oz. His style isn't as clean and smooth as A. B. Yehoshua's, for example, nor as emotionally charged as David Grossman's, but it felt a bit more adventurous and experimental. Certainly, this short story collection is wonderfully characterized and is still beautifully written, even if it's a strange type of beauty. I finished reading Scenes from Village Life in a blur and could easily recommend it to other readers. Though I didn't really like the opening and closing stories (the last story takes the reader to a different, futuristic-seeming setting with an allegorical purpose that just didn't click for me), the meat of Scenes from Village Life is excellent. Yes, I'll be reading more by Amos Oz.

* Goodreads for some odd reason attributes the publication to 1998, though the book was actually published in 2009

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Loving the confessions, hating Noa Weber

If ever a book to have two starkly different titles in two different languages, The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven is a prime example of the new title improving on the old. The book is technically titled My True Love (though a more accurate Hebrew translation would be My Heart's Desire: שאהבה נפשי), yet this somewhat sappy, melodramatic title hardly does justice to the often cynical, rather biting book within. Similarly, the original Israeli cover does not match the content of the book at all - combined, the two give off a very trite, tacky feel regarding a novel that is far from either.

One of the reasons I like the English title a lot better is because of how easily it allows me to divide my thoughts on the book. Fact: I hated Noa Weber. I hated her attitude, I hated her personality, I hated her decisions, I hated her mistakes, I hated her political/social frame of mind, I hated her semi-wish-fulfillment internal fictional character and I seriously hated her constant self-justifications of her obnoxious behavior. And yet I seriously liked her confessions, and by extension the book overall. I'm really not sure why.
Tacky Hebrew cover

I think my appreciation for the book can be found within Noa's in-story fictional stand-in, Nira Woolf. Noa describes Nira as a strong female character, but then mentions critics who tear Nira down as a fake feminist, essentially a man in a woman's body. From the first moment this critique is mentioned, it resonated with me strongly and I immediately agreed: Nira is a cliched "strong" woman, whose behavior really isn't any different from every male lawyer/detective in every legal thriller featuring a male lead except for the fact that she's a woman.

This tiny bit of empathy with Noa's fictional critics hit me surprisingly hard once I realized that I was also judging Noa through this lens. For all her feminist framing, Noa's life revolves around a man: she readily admits this. Alek is as central to The Confessions of Noa Weber as Noa herself is. Everything Noa tries to deny about Alek or about her relationship with him starts to fall apart as she tells her story. Whenever Noa commented that "it's wasn't like this" or "it's not like that", I found myself thinking that it's actually exactly like that. She's a contradictory character, contrasted with her own internally contradictory character, Nira.

I have to give Gail Hareven credit. Despite creating a character I couldn't stand, I wanted to keep reading about her. I wanted to know more about her life, even though there was nothing in it that I liked. Hareven writes Noa with a honest feel; I've seen some reviews refer to it as a memoir-style, but it's really not. Ultimately, the U.S. title got it spot-on - these are Noa's confessional ramblings and attempts at self-justification. Noa doesn't even try to whitewash her own history, but she contradicts herself at every turn. She claims not to regret anything she's ever done, but her tone says otherwise. She claims to be this great feminist, but she immediately submits to Alek's whims and requests. She even admits to shame about this, through both words and actions.

I'm glad The Confessions of Noa Weber was translated into English. It deserves it. It's an excellent novel overall, proving that a book can tell the story of someone entirely unsympathetic and still be good. If I could only figure out how Gail Hareven did it...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Unreliable facts | Maternity Home

I've spent the past few days trying to muddle through my thoughts on the Israeli novel Maternity Home (בית היולדות). It's a weird book, made weirder by its odd juxtaposition of fact, psychological studies, and completely false manipulations. It's got the strangest pacing of any book I've read in a long time, and though it takes almost 300 pages (out of... 300 pages) to get to the dramatic revelations that are easily predicted early in the book (specifics aside), a subtle tense vibe kept me mostly in suspense until the end of the book.

It's this odd balance of reality and complete non-reality that makes me suspect that Maternity Home is not a good book. I couldn't shake off the feeling that author Daria Maoz (who has a PhD in sociology and anthropology) was telling the truth at all times, despite the fact that I knew that a lot of the "facts" were simply manipulative brain-washing.

There is also a matter of marketing and genre definition. It's hard to explain without spoiling the end (which I would rather not do, despite the fact that I highly doubt this book will ever be translated into English...), but suffice to say that there's a rather inevitable twist at the novel's end. This twist does more than simply cast doubt on many of the so-called facts listed throughout the book, it calls into question the entire premise and genre of it. Maternity Home, in the space of a few out-of-place pages, transforms into a novel of a very different sort. I'm not surprised it hasn't been a particularly good seller.

But I cannot deny that I was extremely invested in Maternity Home. For all its flaws (namely the blurring of the fact-fiction line and the glibly told lies), it's an interesting book revolving around a fascinating subject: motherhood. Even through the veil of unreliability and mystery, the novel's focus on three women who have just gone through the "traumatic experience of giving birth" (as the doctors in the titular maternity home so often refer to it) is wonderfully informative. The carefully constructed manipulations, while creepy and disturbing enough, grow as the novel progresses. It's a gradual flip as the veil is pulled back slowly slowly, until it is finally whipped off within the final pages.

Overall I did gain much from reading Maternity Home. It's a curious genre-bending book that focuses on a subject that most fiction completely shies away from, offering a surprisingly blunt view of new motherhood. Even if I were to ignore the strangeness of the book, its setting, its premise, and its twist, it would remain interesting. Unfortunately, its own unreliability swings back: I may be better for having read Maternity Home, but I do not think it's the sort of book I'll be able to easily recommend. If at all.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Glamour fades, still amazed - HBW 2012

The greatest week and a half of the year is coming to an end, and this year I visited the main Hebrew Book Week fairground twice. The first time, like last year, I simply collected catalogs and got a feel for the books being pushed. The second time I came with a concrete list and specifically bought the books on it. Even when the best 2-for-1 deals were against me, I stuck to my list - even if I didn't "save" as much money, I saved precious shelf space and time. In the end, I left with 16 books overall - significantly less than last year, but still a very respectable amount of books.

But what struck me most about this year was the fact that I saw through a lot of the glamour. The recent debate in Israel over price-setting by the large bookstore chains (a ridiculously heavy topic in its own right, one I've been struggling to untangle for quite some time) sparked something in me. My love affair with both of the large bookstore chains in Israel ended a long time ago, but now I started to feel a bit of the familiar animosity towards the larger publishers, something that had until that point been limited to the Anglo publishing world.

My solution was to try to keep an open mind, and more importantly, avoid falling into the publisher's traps. I came with specific requests, and made sure to avoid adding additional books to my list just because "they seemed good". If there's one thing I've learned from four years of attending HBW, it's that I tend not to read the books I bought just to fill a specific deal. They sit on the shelf and gather dust. Most publishers were accommodating - even books that hardly sold could be found among their stacks of bestsellers. Others were not - one of the largest publishers in Israel actually laughed at the fact that I expected the books on my list to be available. Needless to say, I did not purchase anything from them this year.

It's not even that I favored smaller publishers. The majority of my purchases came from well-established publishers. Many were actually best-seller type books. But even among the heaps of bestsellers, I discovered a relatively smaller publisher (though by no means tiny) that publishes a respectable amount of world literature of a non-pop variety.* And so I came away from HBW this year with books originally in Hebrew, Spanish, Catalan, French, Russian, Japanese, Polish and German.

But like I said, the glamour is fading. The booksellers this year tried so hard to convince me to buy books I didn't want. Deals changed from day to day (something which actually would have changed which books I was planning on buying, or which books I would have researched). I realized just how few books many of the larger publishers actually bring with them. It wasn't disappointing, exactly, but I realized that I wasn't actually saving as much money as I might have been had I been buying more unnecessary books. Both of my visits did, however, remind me why I wait for this week all year.

It's still a wonderfully diverse experience. It's easy to find most aspects of Israeli society at HBW, all mingling together for one simple, pure purpose. It's great to have a stranger next to me point and say, "That's not as good as his other book", easily assuming that I had read that previous novel. It's fascinating to find those publishers who stand at their own booths (rather than hiring simple booksellers) and share blurbs about the trade with anyone who knows what to ask. It's fun to find smaller publishers, where the time, devotion and care each customer receives is unlike anywhere else. Simply put, there may come a year where I will attend HBW and not purchase a single book. Unlikely, perhaps, but the simple joy of attending far outweighs any of the technical bookselling faults.

*It was also at this booth that I had the loveliest moment of the day, when the bookseller saw the two books I had chosen (thus fulfilling the 1+1 deal). I asked if she had any other recommendations. "No," she said, "you've got two excellent books right there."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Yehoshua's earlier duet | A Woman in Jerusalem

I originally started reading A. B. Yehushua's A Woman in Jerusalem several years ago. This was before the "Hebrew explosion" (when I began reading more than just two Hebrew books a year) and I'd spent a few weeks trying to pick an appropriate title. Eventually, someone recommended A. B. Yehoshua. Being the thinnest of Yehoshua's books available to me at the time, I chose A Woman in Jerusalem (the original title in Hebrew roughly translates into The Human Resources Manager's Mission). I was immediately drawn in by Yehoshua's writing, but predictably struggled for a few months, getting only fifty or so pages into the book. Back on the shelf it went, collecting dust for four more years.

A couple weeks ago I took it down again. Since my last attempt, I'd read (and enjoyed) one of Yehoshua's more recent novels (Friendly Fire) so I was somewhat better acquainted with his writing style. This time the reading itself was significantly easier - within just a little over a week I finished this novel that has been sitting on my conscience for four years.

So what can I say about it? That it's a pretty good book. A. B. Yehoshua is one fine writer. A Woman in Jerusalem is another in a long line of Israeli novels that employs the no-quotes style (which a friend of mine has aptly described as the S. Y. Agnon style imitation). Eighty percent of the time, Israeli writers don't pull it off. But Yehoshua is not simply another writer, and A Woman in Jerusalem flows quite comfortably. No fault there.

But now that I've finished the book I understood why it was so easy to set aside years ago. A Woman in Jerusalem is a curious blend of destination and character-driven story. There's a general progression, but no real plot. The ultimate conclusion did not influence the first section of the book. There is no need to keep reading, only a kind of passive curiosity. Back when reading in Hebrew was a lot harder, it was easy to forget the book and move onwards to something else. And it's just as easy to get back into it.

As for the character-driven aspect, it's something of a twisted duet. I don't use this word lightly: Yehoshua specifically described his next novel Friendly Fire as a duet, and in that case the description is perfect. Friendly Fire is told by husband and wife through alternating chapters. The two completely separate stories balance each other nicely thematically and stylistically - a well-told duet.

I'd describe A Woman in Jerusalem as a duet of a subtly different kind. We have a world populated with characters who are not named, only referred to according to by descriptions (job titles, "the girl", "the snake", etc.), and then one single named entity: Yulia Ragayev, the woman in Jerusalem. She is the only character given a name, yet she never speaks, never breathes. She is the character that haunts the novel (effectively, I might add). The different titles in Hebrew and English emphasize the dual qualities of the novel rather nicely - is it the woman in Jerusalem who is the main character, or the HR manager? Is the book about characters, or is it about the "mission" the manager is sent on? These options do not quite contradict each other, instead highlight the differences between the two sides of A Woman in Jerusalem. In the end, passively written as it may be, A Woman in Jerusalem emerges complete, and well worth the time.