Israeli novelist Yehoshua (The Liberated Bride, 2003, etc.) explores our obligations to the dead in an emotionally powerful novel.
The central event—the death of a young woman—happens before the story opens, but informs all of what will come for the main character, an unnamed human-resources manager. Yulia Ragayev, a cleaning woman for a bakery in Jerusalem, is killed in a suicide bombing, and when no one claims her body, a fiery newspaper reporter denounces the woman’s employer. Unwilling to be cast as a heartless businessman, the bakery’s kindly owner gives the company’s HR guy the task of finding Yulia’s family. After a moving tour of the places where Yulia’s marginal life unfolded, the man, heart-stricken that this beautiful woman was, in fact, a lonely illegal immigrant, begins to feel a connection with her. Accompanied by the opportunistic reporter, he brings Yulia’s body to the impoverished Eastern European country she left in search of a better life. The journey is curiously liberating for the man, who—divorced, estranged from his own daughter, careless about making human connections—sees in Yulia a wasted life with redemptive possibilities. The story ends with an unexpected plot twist that dovetails perfectly with Yehoshua’s subtle ruminations on what constitutes family and home. The narrative strategy of naming the dead woman while referring to everyone else by their job titles is, like the emotional restraint of Yehoshua’s writing, characteristic of his political bluntness and more subdued hopefulness.
A moving, unsentimental reckoning with death and renewal.