Place is the ostensible theme of this collection of short stories by Savyon Liebrecht, an admired and popular Israeli writer, with the title of each story naming its locale — ”America,” “Kibbutz,” “Hiroshima,” “Tel Aviv,” “Munich,” “Jerusalem,” and the title story.
But the exactitude of geography offers no anchor to the characters in these stories. In the opening story, America is the imagined place of romance and adventure where the narrator’s mother lives with her new husband, having abandoned the narrator, then a young girl, and her father to a dreary routine existence in Jerusalem. Only many years later does the narrator learn about her mother’s life in America, casting an entirely new light on her life.
The blast of knowledge that throws open “America” marks the other stories in the collection. Hidden facts undo the social order of “Kibbutz,” half-suspected truths make the Bauhaus architecture of “Tel Aviv” more than a guide’s love of the buildings, new perspectives in “Hiroshima” and “Munich” strike strange chords on an Israeli consciousness. “Jerusalem” is a home with both its welcome and its dangers. “A Good Place for the Night,” set in a world that doesn’t yet exist, wrenches the hope of the future from the deep pain of the present.
These are unsettling stories, presenting the reader with questions about the meaning of place and how — real or imagined — it underlines our quest for meaning and love in the world we inhabit.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.