For fans of good literary fiction set in Jerusalem and of the same ilk as the hit Israeli television series Srugim, there is a wonderful new short story collection, The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love and Longing by the UK-born, Jerusalem-based writer Yael Unterman. Unterman writes about the lives and emotions of a group of singles in a way that is interesting even to long-married reviewers like this one.
The book opens with a clever description of a dating website and ends with a futuristic odyssey to the dating scene of the future, complete with “Instashop,” an app to deliver goods instantly; “Spacebook”; and of course the dating site with required membership for all Jews above eighteen, “MegaShidduchMart”. But all the stories, like the finale in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in 2029, are about the “striving and yearning for authentic connection with God and other.”
Such connection isn’t always so easy to find, Unterman writes in “Cold Date,” the opening story, set in 1999: “What a cruel joke, this mismatch of desire, this unmet reaching out for connection, a prank played by God on innocent men and women.” The characters in these stories, mostly Anglos living in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem, have to cope with many obstacles. The different language and culture of Israel and Israelis, meeting guys on army reserve duty, and the ways in which religious differences create issues are all subjects for her characters.
One of the many pleasures of reading this collection of stories is their variety. The story “Katamonista” is made up entirely of blog postings by one character whose clever and alluring voice makes the conceit work. Another story, “Sweet Dreamer,” is about the ways in which a character relates to the profiles of men she meets online, and the dangers of digital connections: “Email distorts things, especially for people with a lot of imagination, like you. It hides what’s real and implies what’s not.”
Fortunately for readers, Unterman has uncovered much about the undistorted feelings of religious singles. Enjoy, laugh, and empathize.
- Nehama Leibowitz: Teacher and Bible Scholar by Yael Unterman
- In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist by Ruchama King Feuerman
Read Beth Kissileff’s interview with Yael Unterman here.