Poems, Folktales, and a Singing Nun in Yehoshua's Latest

A.B. Yehoshua, like the late poet Yehuda Amichai, is a preeminent Israeli writer of the generation that came of age with the state. "When I was young, the whole country was young," Amichai wrote. On the other hand, Israel's current national mood of weariness, recrimination, and a fierce clinging to the pleasures of daily life is perfectly suited to the feelings of an old man. Such is the atmosphere of The Liberated Bride, Yehoshua's ninth novel.

Yohanan Rivlin, like Yehoshua, is a professor at the University of Haifa. He is madly, hectically in love with his wife, a judge, and obsessed with the sudden dissolution of his older son's marriage five years before. Meanwhile, he struggles with a stillborn book about the Algerian civil war, and is drawn closer to the family of a young Palestinian student who delays completing the requirements for her master's degree.

The facts on the ground remain essentially static through Bride's 500-odd pages, which are padded out with poems, folktales, theatrical performances, and even academic essays and lectures in Rivlin's near-antiquated field of Orientalism. Yehoshua's intelligent, sardonic tone, in Hillel Haskin's fluid translation, varies little whether describing a vacuum-cleaner salesman's demonstration or the ecstatic performance of a Lebanese singing nun:

What was it that moved him almost to tears? There were no human conflicts or relationships here, only the bliss of an ancient Jew's moonstruck disciples discovering he was gone from the grave.

There are revelations and an ill-conceived flurry of violence toward the end, but the novel ultimately succeeds as an intimate portrait of three families, and even more importantly, three marriages, one long and happy, one short and unhappy, and one, between the Israeli and Palestinian people, that is close, distant, and painfully unresolved.

 
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