Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zeruya Shalev

Husband and Wife

When finally I put down this novel I was trembling. Described in The Scotsman as an “emotional white-knuckle ride,” this story plunges the reader deep into the heart of a rapidly disintegrating marriage in present-day Jerusalem. In prose so accomplished, so stirring, at times so achingly beautiful that one is tempted to drop one’s guard, to sit back, relax, and surrender oneself to its rhythms, Shalev is relentless in her determination to draw the reader inside the very skin of her protagonist, a mother and social worker named Na’ama Newman, as she registers the bruising daily trauma—each banal and horrific detail—of her imploding love life and family.   

The simple plot is set in motion one morning when Na’ama’s husband, Udi, a healthy, active man, wakes up at home after a solitary outing in the desert to discover that he cannot move his legs.  Unable to find a physical, medical explanation for his paralysis, they are forced to recognize that the problem lies elsewhere, in their marriage itself, their once-happy life together attacked from within by an aggressive emotional cancer.  From there, their relationship quickly spirals out of control, fueled—as fire by gasoline—by years of pent-up disappointment, longing, recrimination, and fear. Told from Na’ama’s acute, often startling perspective, Husband and Wife is the story of one woman’s desperate, exasperating, sometimes valiant attempt to save her marriage and family, to check the momentum of what at points seems as terrible, as implacable as fate.  While the novel might just as well have been set in Shanghai, Durban, or Madrid, so little do we see of modern Israel, so broadly human is the story’s appeal, one cannot help but suspect that this tangled and septic relationship is somehow reflective of the anguish and violence of Jerusalem itself.

Grim, depressing as this sounds—and is (Why would anyone but a masochist read such stuff? Or recommend it?), the novel is also singularly exhilarating in its pacing and candor, in its fearless—thereby hopeful—depiction of relationships and love.  “Husband and Wife is not a book for the faint-hearted,” writes critic Jamie Jauncey, “but for anyone prepared…to experience with almost hallucinatory vividness the complex and conflicting emotions of a modern woman dealing with a disintegrating relationship, there can be no finer opportunity.”  If, like Kafka, you believe that a book should be an axe for the frozen sea inside us, then pick up a copy of this one.  It will shake you to your core.

Zerya Shalev was born at Kibbutz Kinneret. She has an MA in Biblical studies and works as a literary editor at Keter Publishing House. Shalev has published five novels, a book of poetry and a children`s book. Her novels Love Life, Husband and Wife, and Late Family (Terra) have received critical acclaim both in Israel and abroad and have been bestsellers in several countries. Love Life has been included in Der Spiegel`s prestigious list of "20 Best Novels in World Literature" over the last 40 years, together with the work of Saul Bellow, J. M. Coetzee and Philip Roth. Husband and Wife is included in the French Fnac list of the "200 Best Books of the Decade." Shalev has been awarded the Book Publishers Association’s Gold and Platinum Prizes, the Corine Prize (Germany, 2001), the Amphi Award (France, 2003), the ACUM Prize three times (1997, 2003, 2005), and the French Wizo Prize (2007).  Husband and Wife was also nominated for the Femina Prize (France, 2002). A feature film of Love Life, produced in Germany, was released in 2008. Her books have been published abroad in 25 languages.  Husband and Wife (‏בעל ואישה‎) was translated by Dalya Bilu and is published by Grove Press, New York.

Peter Adam Nash

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