Birth, death, three husbands, eight children, and a few grumpy ghosts are just some of the details in the grand life of Rosa, courtesy of Israeli novelist Horn (Four Mothers, 1999, etc.).
Rosa is born during Israel’s War of Independence, and her fantastical life begins shortly after the murder of her father. Raised by the thin, dour Angela, who makes a tidy living by reading her neighbors’ coffee grounds, young Rosa first finds fame as the most beautiful baby born to the new state. Salons rename a hairstyle for her perfect blond ringlets; strangers on the street stare at her loveliness. She lives a charmed life, though not untouched by the tragedies of the greater world: her best childhood friend is a Holocaust survivor (she learns arithmetic from the numbers tattooed on his arm), and she’s haunted by the little Arab girl whose usurped house she now lives in. At 14, she marries her uncle Joseph, and, despite the unusual union, they share a happy life and raise seven children. When their eighth is born, Rosa is in her 50s, and she makes headlines again, but her daughter Angel is hunchbacked and will never grow in size past the age of two, fulfilling Rosa’s secret wish that her children stay small forever. In accordance with a childhood game that predicted Rosa would have four husbands, Joseph falls into a decline and soon dies after seeing the deformed Angel. Husband number two, a childhood sweetheart, dies in a bizarre accident involving Rosa’s again-newsworthy weight gain; husband three is an artist seeking to paint the country’s most famous woman. Rosa’s zest for life, food, and sex ease the anguish of her husbands’ deaths (their ghosts are in bed with her at night), but it’s Angel, perhaps a demon of bad luck, who challenges Rosa’s will to live.
A lively tale of magical realism that occasionally stumbles in attempting to wow you, offering a rather superficial analysis of its hero. Still, an entertaining folly.