In Lee’s (A Bed on Nine Legs, 2013, etc.) novel, an Israeli expatriate explores her memories across distances of geography and time.
Lily Katz is an Israeli-American living a comfortable life with her longtime husband, Adam, in New York City. When a letter unexpectedly arrives from Amos, a man with whom she had an affair while living in Kenya in the late 1960s, the floodgates of Lily’s memory open. She devotes herself to writing a memoir. In a winding, nonsequential narrative, Lily explores her life, from her school days in Israel to the present day. Lily, Adam, and their two young children live in Kenya during the Six-Day War and watch helplessly from another continent as their beloved nation of Israel comes under attack. After Adam’s professional life in Africa falls apart, the family relocates to the United States. The move is meant to be temporary, but as Adam begins to experience success as an engineer and the family puts down roots in Queens, it becomes permanent. Lily comes to think of herself as, “Not a true Israeli, neither a true American.” Her family and friends in Israel and Kenya exist strongly in her memory but have nothing to do with her new life in America. On her visits to Israel, she finds herself increasingly distanced from her home country: “Could a street too age, she wondered, finding that even her parents’ street, like its inhabitants, had greatly aged.” Lee segues from a close third-person perspective to Lily’s first-person voice, a technique that comments on how memory distances a person from the self. Indeed, the novel is far less about the events of Lily’s life than about the way she remembers these events and their associated people and places. The detailed summary and examination of every change in Lily’s life may prove a bit languid for some readers. That said, the secrets surrounding the circumstances of Amos and Lily’s affair create strong narrative tension. More interesting than the interpersonal relationship, though, is the way that Lee presents the relationship between writing and memory.
A pensive novel about
emotional and physical displacement.