The Remains of Love: A Novel

Zeruya Shalev; Philip Simp­son, trans.
  • Review
By – January 7, 2014

A woman lies dying in Jerusalem and her chil­dren gath­er around her dur­ing her final days to tend to her last needs. This is a famil­iar famil­ial scene for most read­ers. But Zeruya Shalev writes about the fam­i­ly dra­ma with poet­i­cal prose that will chal­lenge the read­er dur­ing the final jour­ney of a fam­i­ly that may or may not be an alle­go­ry for mod­ern Israel. 

The dying matri­arch Hem­da was raised on a kib­butz by a stern father and fre­quent­ly absent moth­er. With­in the insti­tu­tion­al­ized fam­i­ly struc­ture of the kib­butz, which is alter­nate­ly claus­tro­pho­bic, alien­at­ing, and embrac­ing, Hem­da longs for free­dom. She is pushed into a love­less mar­riage that pro­duces two chil­dren she can nev­er ful­ly embrace or nur­ture. The son is smoth­ered with atten­tion, as if in des­per­a­tion Hem­da tries to give to one child all the love she nev­er expe­ri­enced, while the daugh­ter, Dina, feels neglect­ed. Dina vows to not repeat this with her own daugh­ter and falls into despair as her lit­tle girl begins to grow away from her moth­er into a rebel­lious teen. 

As Hemda’s impend­ing death hangs over the fam­i­ly it cre­ates ten­sions from words unspo­ken and explo­sions of long repressed long­ing and anger. While these are not unfa­mil­iar themes, the author’s approach is what gives the book a dif­fer­ent and unique look at a crum­bling family.

It is not an easy read due to the style of the writer. Ms. Shalev writes with sparse punc­tu­a­tion, and the lack of quo­ta­tion marks often leaves the read­er won­der­ing whether the sen­tences are con­ver­sa­tion or inte­ri­or dia­logue: are these present events, or cloud­ed memories?

This nov­el is more than an often-told sto­ry; it is an exam­i­na­tion of lov­ing too much and lov­ing too lit­tle, the nature of love and what it brings to a life.

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

Discussion Questions