• Review
By – February 5, 2024

This affect­ing nov­el by prize-win­ning Israeli author Savy­on Liebrecht has two dis­tinct parts. The first is set in the 1980s, begin­ning when the nar­ra­tor, Micha, is nine years old and meet­ing his favorite uncle’s prospec­tive bride, Adel­la, for the first time. The sec­ond takes place when Micha, now forty, is invit­ed back to Israel by his aunt Adel­la. He’s been liv­ing in Los Ange­les for twen­ty-four years, ever since a rift in the fam­i­ly sev­ered all con­tact between his nuclear fam­i­ly and his Israeli relatives.

Micha starts his life as a mem­ber of a large and close Per­sian Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in Israel, where he feels unwa­ver­ing con­fi­dence in the pow­er of the fam­i­ly — a safe­ty net spun of steel struts and love.” Adel­la, who is eigh­teen when they first meet, is a Per­sian Jew­ish orphan with a limp and poor eye­sight. Because of her low­er social stand­ing and phys­i­cal deficits, she’s con­sid­ered an appro­pri­ate can­di­date to mar­ry Micha’s sweet, thir­ty-eight-year-old Uncle Moshe, who’s suf­fer­ing from an unnamed ner­vous dis­or­der and devel­op­men­tal disability. 

The first part of the book intro­duces us to a nos­tal­gic adult Micha, who’s a suc­cess­ful ghost­writer. He recalls a fam­i­ly gath­er­ing at which he was the only one of his rel­a­tives to extend any kind­ness to the ostra­cized and iso­lat­ed Adel­la. Despite the cold­ness and cru­el­ty of the extend­ed fam­i­ly, Micha devel­oped a close bond with Adel­la, who lat­er invit­ed him to be her shush­bin (trans­lat­ed here as brides­man”) to escort her to the chup­pah at her wed­ding. Yet his infat­u­a­tion with Adel­la, which his moth­er dis­cour­aged, waned as he entered his ado­les­cent years.

In the book’s sec­ond part, Micha returns to Israel at Adel­la’s request, where he is assailed by mem­o­ries from his ear­ly life — a life from which he has been com­plete­ly cut off. The resource­ful and tal­ent­ed Adel­la, now known as Adel, is a suc­cess­ful cloth­ing design­er. Like Micha, she’s estranged from the fam­i­ly. She shares with him her life sto­ry, fill­ing in the details about all the slights and humil­i­a­tions vis­it­ed on her by his numer­ous aunts and uncles. As in oth­er works by Liebrecht, The Brides­man focus­es on a mar­gin­al­ized woman chaf­ing against her demeaned sta­tus in a patri­ar­chal Israeli society. 

Dur­ing this adult encounter, Adel tells Micha about an ear­ly ren­dezvous they shared, upend­ing his con­cep­tion of their past. In this way, she gifts the ghost­writer a sto­ry of his own to tell, in exchange for the dis­qui­et­ing offer­ing he unwit­ting­ly gave her twen­ty-four years earlier. 

This is a slim, haunt­ing nov­el about mem­o­ry and sto­ry­telling. Micha spends much of the sec­ond part of the book read­just­ing his con­cep­tion of his own his­to­ry and imag­in­ing how he will craft Adella’s tale into a nar­ra­tive. The book ends in meta fash­ion, while Micha is on a flight home to Los Ange­les. He writes what will become one of the open­ing para­graphs of The Brides­man itself.

Lau­ren Gilbert is Direc­tor of Pub­lic Ser­vices at the Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­to­ry in New York City, where she man­ages the Lil­lian Gold­man Read­ing Room and Ack­man & Ziff Fam­i­ly Geneal­o­gy Insti­tute and arranges and mod­er­ates online book discussions.

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