A celebrated Israeli novelist’s visit to Amsterdam, the city where he was born, triggers the search for his origins that—unknowingly—he has been waiting to make his entire life.
Paying thoughtful homage to the Jews of Amsterdam, trapped in the Nazis' inexorable vise of persecution, Israeli writer Elon (If You Awaken Love, 2007, etc.) has composed a story of love, loss, and yearning, expressed through the creation of a novel within a novel. Her central character, writer Yoel Blum, was instructed by his mother never to visit the city from which she, Yoel, and his sister fled, but after her death he makes the trip and accidentally sees a clip of prewar film that opens up questions of identity he feels compelled to explore. So Yoel settles in Amsterdam, in a tacky hotel right near the hospital where he was born, and begins to accumulate notes for a novel through which he will try to make sense of the past. This second story features Sonia, a mother, and her two children, Nettie and Leo, characters who both animate Yoel’s knowledge of the past and accompany him into the present as he wanders the streets, accumulating information, acquaintances, and atmosphere, while slowly coming to terms with the truth. Heavily shadowed with the creeping horrors of the Holocaust—in particular the heart-wrenching choice to hide children and the consequences of that choice—the novel is given weight by its focus on Yoel’s psychology and the mood of a beautiful capital flowing with symbolic dark water. Lyrically phrased and often powerfully visual, the novel has a slow pace, unlike other, perhaps more conventional war stories. However, this deeply felt tale offers a rewarding meditation on survival and on digesting the emotional burdens freely or unknowingly carried.
Blurring the edges between history and fiction, this achingly mournful work impresses with its grave empathy.