From the award-winning, internationally acclaimed Israeli author, the story of a family coping with the sudden mental decline of their beloved husband and father--an engineer who they discover is involved in an ominous secret military project.
How Luria maneuvers his way through both old and new tasks reminded me at times of Nabokov’s Pnin (one of my favorite characters in all of literature); here one feels the same ineffable tenderness that is the mark of a truly wonderful writer. There are missed opportunities, moments of panic when Luria’s memory fails him, yet also moments of sweet comedy as he and Dina interact or when he gets a tattoo of the ignition code for his car when he realizes he is forgetting more than first names ... But this is more than a story about the dangers of the aging brain. Yehoshua has pulled out all the stops and it is the relationship of Israeli to Palestinian that lies at the heart of this book ... Exuberant is the right word, not only for the story’s pile up of characters and events, but also for its prose. It has such precision and joy that I would be remiss if I didn’t praise the translator, Stuart Schoffman who can render a sentence like this: 'Vaguely distressed, Luria opens the big double window to see if the night has swept away the sun and sprawled across the world.' My suspicion is that the Hebrew is even more satisfying than the English translation, and that we are missing word games and puns, but so be it. What we have is more than good enough — a novel so intimate and vivid that past and present and future merge in ways that generate surprise and delight.
...translated smoothly from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman ... If this book lacks the urgency of earlier Yehoshua novels...it’s not only understandable, it’s maybe inevitable given the subject ... It’s hard not to read the atrophy in Zvi’s frontal lobe as a kind of metaphor for the current stagnation of Israeli society. Years of near-constant violence, not to mention multiple terms of Benjamin Netanyahu, would exhaust anybody. At one point, Shibbolet compares Netanyahu directly to the manipulative and subservient King Herod. As Herod was to Rome, he says, Bibi is to the White House. Tellingly, as Zvi’s dementia worsens, he can find his way back to the apartment in Tel Aviv only by using the Yitzhak Rabin memorial, site of the assassination, as a landmark, a direction home ... I found great beauty, not answers, in Zvi’s essential human decency. Rather than retreat inward and hide, he chooses — yes — to live. In Early in the Summer of 1970, Yehoshua wrote, 'Heavily does this fearful land seize me by the neck.' In this novel, when asked if he believes in his country, Zvi answers: 'Do I have a choice?'
The machinations that lead to the design of a 'modest, homey tunnel,' and bring Zvi and Asael to the project's end, are less interesting than is Yehoshua's wry portrait of a proud, accomplished man who's been given a glimpse of his destiny, but who nonetheless is determined to live out his remaining days in dignity and with purpose. His depiction of the Lurias' marriage of nearly 50 years is affectionate but unsentimental, and laced with humor--like the scene where Zvi almost ends up onstage during a performance of the opera Romeo and Juliet--grounded in the bemused tenderness that's a feature of any long-lasting relationship ... In a country that's riven by conflict, Yehoshua's depiction of the interactions between the Israeli civil servants and the Palestinian family at least hints at the possibility of reconciliation, if not full-fledged peace ... In Yehoshua's capable hands, what could have been a depressing account of decline instead becomes one that chooses optimism over despair.