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Harper's Magazine
Friday, September 3rd, 2010
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Homesick (Hebrew Literature)

by Eshkol Nevo

Homesick

A review by Benjamin Moser

"A Life based on survival as opposed to love was perhaps desirable," David Peplin speculates, a line that could almost serve as an epigraph for another novel of fraught coexistences, Homesick (Dalkey Archive, $15.95), by the young Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo. Castel, a crummy hilltop village between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, is haunted by typically Israeli ghosts: of a young soldier recently killed in action, whose parents and little brother are stuck in an airless apartment decorated with macabre mementos of the dead hero; of a baby who died in Kurdistan and seems, to a brain-damaged old man, to have returned in the guise of an aged Palestinian. This man, forced to flee with his family in 1948, has recently returned in search of a treasure his mother left behind.

At the center of the novel is another unhappy young couple, Amir and Noa, good-looking, urbane students -- she of photography, he of psychology -- forced out of the big cities by financial considerations. They soon find themselves fantasizing about leaving, the town and each other.

Homesick is set in the mid-Nineties, just as hopes for peace were squashed by Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Nevo is not a political writer, but he shows how Israel's troubles seep into the lives of his characters. Noa is inspired to take pictures of Palestinian families in front of homes from which they were expelled, but with few Arabs allowed into the country, she has to do with Romanians.

Nevo alternates between several different voices and because the speakers are not clearly marked, the narrative can, at first, be difficult to follow. But the technique also operates like a camera exploring every recess of the unhappy town of Castel, a place where everybody is looking for home, and where nobody can find it.

Benjamin Moser is a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine and the author of Why This World.


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