A multilayered story from the fine Israeli novelist (Returning Lost Loves, 2001, etc.) mixes the personal and political as a historian seeks explanations for two seemingly disconnected events: his son’s divorce and an outbreak of violence in Algeria.
The setting is post-Intifada Israel, the protagonist Rivlin, a middle-aged professor of Oriental Studies at the University of Haifa. His wife Hagit is a judge, and the couple have two sons, Tsakhi, an army officer, and Ofer, who moved to Paris after his wife, Galya, abruptly divorced him. Rivlin, convinced that in private lives as in public events there must be “signs, early warnings, by which a serious scholar looking unflinchingly at the present could unlock the past,” is engaged in two missions. One involves turning to the literature of the past to find the cause of Algeria’s troubles, and the other, to finding the cause of Ofer’s sudden divorce. As he conducts the first search, Rivlin becomes involved with the family of student Samaher, whose wedding he and Hagit attend. Samaher is mysteriously ill, and cannot attend classes, but wants her degree, so Rivlin asks her to translate some Algerian writings, written under French rule. Her cousin Rashid acts as her courier. A mysterious, almost mythical figure, Rashid takes Rivlin into the Palestinian territories, where Rivlin finds his understanding of Arab culture deepening. But his personal search is more frustrating. Visiting the Jerusalem hotel Galya’s family owns, he learns that her father has just died. Something happened in that hotel that caused the divorce, and, while Rivlin searches for the truth, he recalls his own past, attends a provocative Palestinian literary festival, and learns that Galya, who remarried, is pregnant. Rivlin is heartsore about the divorce, but some ease comes to him when a conscience-stricken Galya visits, ready to confide. Historical causes are less easily discerned as Arab-Israeli tensions grow worse.
A splendidly realized search for the causes of ruptures that rend families and nations: both timely and timeless.