Fic­tion

One Mile and Two Days Before Sunset

  • Review
By – September 19, 2022

Elish ben Aken, the pro­tag­o­nist of Shi­mon Adaf’s One Mile and Two Days Before Sun­set, is a dis­ap­point­ed man — a failed chron­i­cler of Israeli rock n’ roll and an unsuc­cess­ful philoso­pher. We first encounter him at Tel Aviv Uni­ver­si­ty, stum­bling through a lec­ture on the rela­tion­ship between poets and ser­i­al killers. Nei­ther the baf­fled stu­dents nor even Elish him­self is con­vinced. So he approach­es the sub­ject like he is a detec­tive, a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor: a clerk,” as he puts it, of small human sins.”

But then a real case gets dumped in his lap. Yehu­da Menuhin, a well-known pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy, is dead in an appar­ent sui­cide. Mean­while, the cold case mur­der of Dalia Shushan, a haunt­ing­ly gift­ed singer (“the voice of a siren with a corpse in each cham­ber of her heart”), appears to be some­how linked to Menuhin. Are poets and killers one and the same? To find out, Elish must embark on a jour­ney in which he con­fronts betray­al, the quick­sil­ver nature of true genius, and the yawn­ing lone­li­ness of his own life.

Adaf has fun play­ing with all the old noir tropes — the hard-bit­ten detec­tive mov­ing through the night­time city, the goons that trash his office and then beat him sense­less. Even his Gal Fri­day is right out of an old Bog­a­rt movie: a wise­crack­ing tough chick with a heart of gold and a soft spot for her boss. But lay­ered over the old-time atmos­pher­ics is some eru­dite Jew­ish con­tent for us to pon­der. Dalia was mur­dered on Tisha B’av, after all. And Menuhin killed him­self the day after Yom Kip­pur. Some­times, it seems, mere atone­ment is not enough.

And Elish? You remind me of that Jew­ish schol­ar — ” some­one tells him, “ — what was his name? — the one who used to ride his horse in the syn­a­gogue yard on Sat­ur­days.” It’s a ref­er­ence to Elisha ben Abuya, the Rab­binic sage who embraced Hel­lenism, for­ev­er earn­ing him­self the title of Acher, the Oth­er One.”

Almost every­body and every­thing in this book is oth­er.” Elish, a self-described ars or Sephardic/​Mizrahi greas­er, is a sojourn­er in Israeli soci­ety. Dalia Shushan,another Mizrahi, comes from Sderot, a hard­scrab­ble immi­grant town. Like Cleve­land, Detroit, or Liv­er­pool, Sderot enjoys a myth­ic sta­tus as the nurs­ery of raw musi­cal tal­ent. But that doesn’t mean that any Israeli actu­al­ly wants to live there.

The best detec­tive fic­tion takes us into a world inhab­it­ed by oth­ers,” the peo­ple that most of us would rather for­get: the poor, the mar­gin­al­ized, the dirty cops, the dead junkies with eyes open, star­ing at you as if the last thing they saw in their lives was God.” Here in the Dias­po­ra, where Israel is for­ev­er the Start-Up Nation” of Jew­ish dreams, this is a dis­com­fit­ing view. But it is real — and Shi­mon Adaf and Elish are clever, engag­ing Vir­gils, guid­ing us on a two-day trek to the dark heart of Tel Aviv, and of Israel.

Angus Smith is a retired Cana­di­an intel­li­gence offi­cial, writer and Jew­ish edu­ca­tor who lives in rur­al Nova Scotia.

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