A novel in stories from the Israeli author of The One Facing Us (1998) and Bliss (2003).
This is the tale of an Egyptian-Jewish family living in a concrete shack on the outskirts of Tel Aviv in the 1950s and ’60s. There's a father—mostly absent—and a boy and two girls. Then there's the mother, Lucette, and “the mother” is precisely how her children refer to her. To them, she isn’t an individual person so much as she is a force—protean, predictably unpredictable, not quite human. “Our knowledge of her, which was made up of countless inner withdrawals, silent understandings and agreements, a weave of dread and love that kept changing its colors, had us riveted.” The Lucette that her children see is Lucette the immigrant, a woman who works 12-hour days at menial jobs, a woman who is now known by a name in a language she doesn’t even understand—her Hebrew name is Lavana; she speaks only Arabic and French. Everything soft and feminine she left behind in Egypt. Seen through the eyes of the younger daughter, Lucette’s existential instability is the central problem of the book. For this girl, the volatile politics of midcentury Israel mean nothing. It’s the war at home—the home her family struggles to regard as a home, the home that is a physical extension of the mother—that shapes her life. There’s little dialogue here, the setting barely shifts, and most of the action is internal. What Matalon offers instead of a traditional plot is a collection of nearly static scenes, many just a few hundred words in length. Cumulatively, they don’t create a narrative so much as a universe, a universe as rich and carefully drawn as it is harsh. Lucette’s youngest child is a careful observer—both as a girl and as an adult—and there is poetry on every page.
Lovely and difficult.