A Woman in Jerusalem

A.B. Yehoshua; Hil­lel Halkin, trans.

  • Review
By – May 25, 2012

There are no names in this absorb­ing nov­el, only job descrip­tions. The human resource man­ag­er of a large bak­ery must find out whether a woman who was killed in Jerusalem in a recent sui­cide bomb­ing was in its employ. The woman lies unclaimed in a hos­pi­tal morgue for over a week until a week­ly tabloid reveals that she had on her per­son a pay stub from the bak­ery. Shamed, the bak­ery own­er demands the human resource man­ag­er to make amends.

Though we know who was killed and how she died almost imme­di­ate­ly, this is a tale of intrigue and reads like a mys­tery nov­el. Regret is the ghost that haunts the nar­ra­tor, known to read­ers sim­ply as the human resource man­ag­er. He is tor­ment­ed by the fact that every­one he speaks to remem­bers Yulia for her dis­arm­ing beau­ty and charm while he him­self can­not recall meet­ing her, although he inter­viewed and hired her. He is stung when his sec­re­tary is not sur­prised by this and tells him, You live inside of your­self like a snail. All you see of beau­ty or good­ness is its shad­ow.” As he inves­ti­gates her death he becomes obsessed by her life. The ques­tion posed is whether emo­tion­al entan­gle­ments have to do with real beau­ty or the mere illu­sion of it.

The no-name device is some­times con­fus­ing, as many of the titles are sim­i­lar— the super­vi­sor,” the office man­ag­er,” etc. I found myself flip­ping back through the pages to keep it all straight. Because it is trans­lat­ed from the Hebrew it is dif­fi­cult to know whether the prose is as heavy hand­ed in the orig­i­nal as it is here. Nev­er­the­less, under­scored is the painful fact that we hear of so many deaths from sui­cide bomb­ings that the vic­tims have become face­less. By giv­ing name only to the dead woman of the title, Yulia Ragayev, and flesh­ing out her sto­ry, Yehoshua makes pal­pa­ble the great swath of loss that every vic­tim creates.

Sara Leopold Spin­nell is a co-founder of Trav​elu​jah​.com, a web­site that pro­motes Chris­t­ian trav­el to Israel. She lives in New York City with her hus­band and two children.

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