Fic­tion

Home­sick

Eshkol Nevo; Son­dra Sil­ver­ston, trans.

  • Review
By – August 25, 2011

Set at the time of the Rabin assas­si­na­tion, this inti­mate sto­ry revolves around Amir, a psy­chol­o­gy stu­dent, and his girl­friend Noa, who stud­ies pho­tog­ra­phy. They’ve decid­ed to try liv­ing togeth­er in an apart­ment in the small town of Ma’oz Ziy­on, west of Jerusalem. Through them we meet their land­lords, who live next door; a neigh­bor­ing fam­i­ly whose old­er son was killed in Lebanon; and a Pales­tin­ian who is work­ing on the ren­o­va­tion of a house down the street. 
 

As the sto­ry­telling shifts from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter they each speak in the first per­son, some­times describ­ing the same scene through dif­fer­ent eyes. We are as engaged with them as they are with one anoth­er because Eshkol Nevo has giv­en each of them a dis­tinct­ly sin­gu­lar voice and traces their lives with immense sym­pa­thy and in aston­ish­ing­ly inven­tive detail. We come to know their inner­most thoughts and feel­ings through the grad­ual accre­tion of telling details, and what’s more, every­thing rings true.
 
Their life issues are not unusu­al: ten­sions in rela­tion­ships, flir­ta­tions, sec­u­lar ver­sus reli­gious pres­sures, fric­tion between Pales­tini­ans and Israelis, uncer­tain­ty about careers, cop­ing with grief. What is extra­or­di­nary is the sen­si­tiv­i­ty and mas­tery with which they are recount­ed. In the redemp­tive con­clu­sion the strands come togeth­er, and we learn how one’s way home can var­i­ous­ly be found in a last­ing rela­tion­ship, through mean­ing­ful work, with fam­i­ly, in com­mu­ni­ty, by recov­er­ing the past, and by embark­ing on a new future.
 
This is Eshkol’s first work to appear in Eng­lish and it makes one eager to read more. Spe­cial praise goes to trans­la­tor Son­dra Sil­ver­ston, whose vir­tu­os­i­ty can’t be over­stat­ed. Whether find­ing the per­fect idioms for each character’s speech or ren­der­ing song lyrics in meter and rhyme, she epit­o­mizes the translator’s art. Home­sick is a vivid, engross­ing, excep­tion­al nov­el that is not to be missed.

Inter­view

London’s Inde­pen­dent news­pa­per, in its review of Eshkol Nevo’s nov­el Home­sick, declared that the author takes his place with Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshuah.” Home­sick, a best-sell­er when it was pub­lished in Israel in 2004, is his first book to be trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish. Nevo spoke with Jew­ish Book Worlds Bob Gold­farb at a café in Tel Aviv. 

Bob Gold­farb: There are a num­ber of times in Home­sick when events in the out­side world are uncan­ni­ly par­al­leled in the lives of your char­ac­ters. 
Eshkol Nevo: The orig­i­nal title of the book, when I sub­mit­ted the man­u­script, was Osmo­sis.” The rea­son is because of the way in which real­i­ty and events in soci­ety— vio­lent events, ter­ror­ist events, polit­i­cal change — are osmos­ing into the cell of pri­vate life. It’s a very del­i­cate process. If there’s a long peri­od of time in which a soci­ety becomes more and more pes­simistic, full of anx­i­ety, it has to osmose into pri­vate life. 

BG: When a water heater explodes, your char­ac­ters imag­ine it might be a Scud mis­sile or a ter­ror­ist attack. 
EN: In a nor­mal place, when a water heater explodes you don’t think it’s a ter­ror­ist attack. But when you’re used to the sound, to being on alert, you inter­pret out­side infor­ma­tion dif­fer­ent­ly. You remem­ber it because it became sig­nif­i­cant after­wards. When the boil­er explodes, after­wards they see this as a prophecy. 

BG: You seem to love all your char­ac­ters, the way God loves all His cre­ations. 
EN: I have to love them, but not be in love with them. I have to find some­thing to love in every char­ac­ter or I couldn’t spend time with them — and I have to spend a lot of time with these peo­ple. Maybe this is the way I look at the world. I try to see their beau­ty, and I try to see where they are pathetic. 

BG: Two minor char­ac­ters are involved in an exor­cism, where a chacham [shaman] dri­ves an evil spir­it from one of them. It’s as if the super­nat­ur­al is their only recourse when they become des­per­ate.
EN: I don’t think it’s always an act of despair. I have a lot of respect for the super­nat­ur­al, the whole ele­ment of the not-com­plete­ly-ratio­nal of life. You have this whole indus­try of kivrei tzadikkim [vis­it­ing the graves of holy men and women]. You can ridicule it, you can say it’s prim­i­tive, but there’s some­thing about peo­ple devot­ing them­selves in this moment. I think it’s very root­ed in Jew­ish tra­di­tion, this respect for things you can’t see. 

BG: From time to time you com­ment on the nar­ra­tive by insert­ing the lyrics of songs by a fic­tion­al band. You seem to have a strong feel­ing for music. EN: I have a romance with music. I want­ed to be a musi­cian when I was younger, but I was not tal­ent­ed in any way — piano, gui­tar, drums. So I try to make music in my writ­ing. It’s a sym­pho­ny in a way, with voic­es that come togeth­er, and peak, and come apart. Maybe this is what dis­tin­guish­es good writ­ers: the musi­cal aspect of prose. One of the songs” in Home­sick became a real song. Sivan Shav­it released it to the radio. And in the last few months two more of my songs were released — David Daor’s CD includes one, Ronit Roland has anoth­er. 

BG: How long have you known that you want­ed to be a writer? 
EN:
This is not the life I imag­ined. I’m still sur­prised by it, by the fact that I don’t have to go to the office in the morn­ing. I worked in adver­tis­ing for 10 years, and I didn’t want to imag­ine that this is what I would be doing. Then I quit my job, wrote Home­sick, and made a liv­ing teach­ing. It’s now been 8 years, and I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out this strange life. I’m not a mis­an­thrope, so how did I find myself in this lone­ly pro­fes­sion? I’m still won­der­ing about it. It’s still a mys­tery. I’m bewildered. 

BG: As a teacher, what do you tell your stu­dents about writ­ing?
EN: I feel very close to my stu­dents. I’m still fight­ing with my demons myself, afraid of tak­ing the wrong turn, so I iden­ti­fy with them. It’s a very brave thing to be an artist, espe­cial­ly in Israel. You can’t make a liv­ing out of it here — only a very, very few peo­ple do it. Where does it come from? I’m still try­ing to under­stand that. 

BG: When you trav­el out­side Israel, do you feel home­sick?
EN: When I got an award in France, I said that this place I come from, it has trou­bles. We don’t even know where the bor­ders are. But it’s home. 

I was in Berlin a month ago. I like the city, my books are accept­ed won­der­ful­ly, I have friends there. Then I wake up and I find a text mes­sage Have you heard what hap­pened?” I turn on CNN and watch — it was the day of the flotil­la inci­dent. You can’t escape it. 

I don’t know if it’s about lone­li­ness, but it’s about hav­ing a place. When I ask how many peo­ple live in the town where they were born, I get maybe five hands out of six­ty. Not only Israelis are home­sick. Home­sick­ness has become a glob­al phenomenon.

Discussion Questions