THE NAME by Michal Govrin


Email this review


First novel by an admired Israeli poet and theater director. Published to acclaim in 1996 in the author’s native Israel, this is a troubling and troubled story of the ebbing and flowing of faith in a hostile modern world. Amalia Orbach, the protagonist and narrator, is a gifted young photographer who has abandoned her art to live in Jerusalem as an Orthodox Jew. She is haunted by the memory of her father’s first wife, a victim of the Holocaust whose name she bears and whose ghostly presence she senses. She is equally tormented by her memories of her parents, both Holocaust survivors, now dead, with whom she never felt at ease and was never finally reconciled. To add to her confusion and despair, Amalia’s now being sought out by a man from the family’s past who commissioned her to create a memorial to her namesake. Her ongoing crisis of faith, exacerbated by the tug of three very different rabbis and a religiously observant fiancÇ, takes place over the 49 days of the Counting of the Omer, a period of semi-mourning that links Passover to Shavuoth (Pentecost). Govrin interweaves past and present in a shifting voice that moves with daunting ease between first and third person. Her prose also cunningly mingles biblical and liturgical reference and echoes (a major achievement in Harshav’s outstanding translation). But regardless of the author’s technical assurance, her debut work is often confusing. Ultimately, its intricacies are strangely unmoving. So, despite the intensity of emotional conflicts evoked, a disturbingly detached performance by a writer of no small talent.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1998
ISBN: 1-57322-072-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998