ESAU by Meir Shalev


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 Noted Israeli writer Shalev (The Blue Mountain, 1991) takes his time getting nowhere in particular as he tries to put a contemporary spin on the legendary biblical story of a lost inheritance and sibling rivalry. Set in Israel, the story is narrated by Esau, who fled to America when his beloved Leah was wooed and won by twin brother Jacob. Now in his late 50s, Esau is back home visiting his dying father, Abraham Levy, a descendant of illustrious sages but a baker by trade, who had fallen in love and married the splendid red- haired Sarah, daughter of Russian peasant converts who had immigrated to Israel early in the century. Humiliated by the loan her family made after his business was destroyed by an earthquake in 1927, Abraham soon, to Sarah's great sorrow, ignored her. Esau recalls his parents' courtship, his village childhood, his rivalry with Jacob, and the events that led to his flight. He also includes stories of Jacob, who stayed behind with Leah and still works in the bakery. In America, Esau became a food writer, but he never forgot his deep love for Leah or for his mother, though Sarah cursed him when he left home, telling him that ``you won't have family of your own... You won't have wife of your own... You won't have child of your own.'' Which all came to pass. The family history doesn't make the impact it should: Jacob's son is killed in Israel's War of Independence, and Leah, overwhelmed by grief, sleeps the rest of her life away. Though she bears another son, conception and birth do not interrupt her slumber. Nothing is resolved despite pretentious hints, fleshed out by tiresome bits of magic realism (an old aunt has miraculous suckling powers) that promise more. For all its bravado and braggadocio, this novel never quite goes mano a mano with its subject. Arm wrestling without the table.

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1994
ISBN: 0-06-019040-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994


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