A sophisticated Paris-based architect faces emotional and professional obstacles when she returns to her native Israel with her two young sons to work on a controversial project.
Willingly abandoning her troubled homeland for a successful life in France and America, Llana Tsuriel cannot, it seems, get Israel out of her blood. The daughter of Aaron Tsuriel, a famous Russian-born “pioneer” who helped found the Jewish state, she is married to Holocaust scholar Alain Greenenberg and also carrying on an affair with Palestinian theater director Sayyid, with whom she is working. Their joint project is a radical “anti-memorial” in Jerusalem designed to foster cooperation and understanding by creating symbolic “huts” meant to be dismantled and rebuilt every seven years by multinational residents. So with ambitious plans to break ground on the structures and deal with her late father’s personal papers, she enthusiastically heads to the Middle East with her little boys, David and Jonathan, leaving an increasingly distant Alain to his own work. Unfortunately, just as she arrives in Israel, the first Gulf War breaks out, jeopardizing the fate of the memorial and angering Alain, who insists she return to Europe with their children. She remains in Jerusalem, riding out the war, and trying to come to grips with her father’s legacy and her own ambivalence over the contrasting Zionist and leftist ideals that have shaped her life. Told through diary entries addressed predominantly to her father, Llana’s story is mostly an internal struggle, touching on art, sex, love and history, with a healthy portion of guilt over some of the choices she has made. A literary prize-winner in Israel, Govrin’s second effort (The Name, 1998) is most accessible and satisfying in the passages in which Llana and her neighbors try to give the boys a “normal” existence during wartime. Those scenes have an immediacy lacking in the somewhat self-indulgent and dense musings that make up the majority of Llana’s observations.
A complex and layered personal/political novel perhaps best appreciated by those with an existing knowledge and interest in geopolitics.