“There are many people in Tel Aviv.” Despite this unpromising first line, many of the stories that follow filter that unmanageable mass of citizens down to a handful of homeless outcasts. Four stories are told by an unnamed first-person narrator; like the flâneur protagonist common to W.G. Sebald and Teju Cole, this nameless character wanders the streets of Tel Aviv, reporting on his observations in “that city that looks like a smattering of barnacle spread across the bottom of a boat.” In “Spinoza Street,” he asks a homeless man for his history; the resulting story within a story—of falling in love with a country girl, living in a barn until he seems to become half-goat, taking over her father’s farm and marrying her—creatively blends Old Testament stories and pagan mythology. “White Hair Woman” has a Miss Havisham–like crone, “a witch of the streets, Tel Aviv’s silent sorceress,” holding court at the public library and awaiting messages from the lover who jilted her. Rindsberg’s metaphors are strikingly fresh, as in the witch’s “giant upward-dripping stalactite of hair” and “the old man and his steel-wool wife treated me like a burnt dish.” Of the remaining stories set among Tel Aviv’s street people, the best is “On Allenby,” one of only two third-person narratives. Two beggars, Shlomi and Mendel, compete for handouts until Rabbi Sirkin, visiting from America, invites them to the synagogue to illustrate his sermon on charity. The worshippers give a banquet in the men’s honor, provide them with new clothes and even offer them jobs so they can be self-sufficient—at which point they bolt back to their old lives. It succeeds as a humorous folk tale yet cannily exposes how religiosity is often just for show. The final, novella-length story, “Rivkah and Rebecca,” is another standout in which Aaron, a would-be writer, tells of his enduring love for twin sisters—one of them, it seems, now merely a spirit.
An inventive, empathetic set of character studies.