“The moment the lawyer opened his eyes he knew he’d be tired for the rest of the day. He wasn’t sure whether he’d heard it on the radio or read it in the newspaper, but he’d come across a specialist who described sleep in terms of cycles. Often the reason people are tired, the specialist explained, was not due to insufficient sleep but rather a sudden awakening before the cycle had run its course. The lawyer did not know anything about the cycles – their duration, their starting point, their ending point…”
Starting slowly, languidly, Kashua sketches the plot and characters in broad, bold, sweeping strokes.
There’s the lawyer, an Arab-Israeli with a thriving practice and an image to uphold, driving around in his luxury Mercedes, with a fancy house in a pricey neighborhood, monthly dinner meetings followed by a salon discussion, where the menu is decided on the basis of the impression it will create on guests. So when it is their turn to host dinner, the lawyers’ wife decides to serve sushi from the most expensive Japanese eatery, Sakura. That is also the day the lawyer’s life starts to crumble. Because before picking up the sushi, the lawyer stopped at a bookstore, where he picked up a second-hand copy of The Kreutzer Sonata, in the pages of which he finds a love letter written in Arabic…in his wife’s hand.
Then there’s Amir, a young, painfully shy social worker who recently completed his degree and started working at a clinic in the Arab sector. His room mates hold down two jobs to make ends meet, which means he’s almost always home alone. In desperation, he agrees to takes up a second job – as a night-time care taker for a comatose young Jew. Then along comes Leila, a young intern with whom he falls in love. But being as painfully shy as he is, instead of saying anything to her, one day he just puts in his resignation and leaves his day job. Soon, his room mate decides to go back to his village, and now all he has is Yonatan, the young comatose Jew he is taking care of. So he starts spending his days roaming around the city and his nights going through Yonatan’s things, learning more about this Jewish boy he is looking after.
The novel raises a lot of questions – Can you change the value system that you were brought up in, where a woman’s honor is a direct reflection of yours? What is identity – a name, a nationality, a piece of paper? Can you unlearn how to be an Arab? Become something else – maybe a Jew – instead? To what extent does your imagination play up, what scenarios does it build, do you believe your imagination more than the facts that are laid out in front of you? Is there an end to suspicion and jealousy?
Some of these questions are answered. Some are questions you, as a reader, have to answer yourself. And some questions will haunt you long after you finish reading the book.
Masterful, immensely believable, a look into a different culture, a land that’s still in strife, a novel of love, loss, life…lies, deceit, betrayal…rising from the ashes and never being able to free yourself from the chains that bind you.
In a nutshell: Very highly recommended!