Pensive, sometimes even brooding novel by Oz (Between Friends, 2014, etc.), widely considered Israel’s greatest living writer.
If there had been no Judas, there would have been no crucifixion and no Christianity. Should Christians—and Jesus, for that matter—be grateful to Judas, then? This question and a host of related queries resound through the halls of Gershom Wald’s Jerusalem apartment, its floors groaning under the burden of books and memories. Shmuel Ash is a bit more than a shlimazel, but he’s had a run of bad luck all the same: his parents’ business has failed, meaning that his allowance has disappeared, and meanwhile his girlfriend has gone off and married someone else. Apart from burying himself in a thesis on Jewish views of Jesus, what else can he do? Well, for one thing, he can fall in love with the sizzling widow who also lives in Wald’s place, where Shmuel has been taken on as a kind of live-in intellectual foil. Why Atalia lives there requires some ferreting out, and suffice it to say that her presence involves echoes of betrayal, perceived or real: “They called him a traitor,” says Wald of still another shadowy presence in that darkened, bookish house, “because he fraternized with Arabs.” Oz does not overwork what could be an oppressive and too-obvious theme, and he is the equal of Kundera in depicting the kind of love that is accompanied more by sighs of impatience and reproval than of desire satisfied. One thing is for sure: just as Judas is foreordained to betray Jesus, Shmuel is destined to fall for Atalia; even the cynical, world-weary Wald allows that he should surrender to her: “You no longer have any choice.” Naturally, the ending isn’t quite happy—we would not be in the land of Oz otherwise—but it is perfectly consonant with the story leading to it.
Lovely, though with a doleful view of the possibilities of peace, love, and understanding, whether among nations or within households.