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.