Fic­tion

The Tun­nel

A.B. Yehoshua, Stu­art Schoff­man (trans.)

By – September 14, 2020

A.B. Yehoshua sur­pris­es and delights once again with a sto­ry about aging and accep­tance. The now eighty-three-year-old acclaimed author has craft­ed a tale which is both unique­ly Israeli and yet uni­ver­sal in theme; every­one ages and weak­ens, but dig­ni­ty and integri­ty need not fade.

Zvi Luria, a retired road­way engi­neer, has been for­get­ting the names of acquain­tances, picked up the wrong child from his grandson’s kinder­garten, and has been los­ing his honed sense of direc­tion — which has always been a source of pride to him. His resource­ful wife, Dina, in an attempt to keep Zvi con­nect­ed and vibrant, has a sug­ges­tion both con­struc­tive and con­struc­tion-ori­ent­ed; she urges him to vol­un­teer his ser­vices and exper­tise as an unpaid assis­tant to a for­mer col­league, a younger engi­neer engaged in the build­ing of a new road­way through the desert near the Ramon Crater. This col­league, in league with his for­mer army com­man­der, is con­ceal­ing a secret with­in the sandy dunes; they are shel­ter­ing a Pales­tin­ian fam­i­ly who has been hid­ing in Israel with­out prop­er doc­u­men­ta­tion or offi­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The family’s sit­u­a­tion is pre­car­i­ous, and evokes sym­pa­thy and a feel­ing of shared human­i­ty. They are all ensnared in a bureau­crat­ic jam and have not been able to find a fig­u­ra­tive road which will car­ry them toward a healthy and secure future. The two engi­neers design a plan to present to the author­i­ties which will enable them to acquire the nec­es­sary per­mits to build a tun­nel which will simul­ta­ne­ous­ly allow for the flow of traf­fic while shel­ter­ing the hid­den fam­i­ly in con­tin­ued secre­cy. To achieve this goal, Luria explores lit­er­al path­ways through actu­al Israeli ter­rain, while attempt­ing to nav­i­gate the increas­ing­ly com­pro­mised neu­ro­log­i­cal path­ways through his own brain. The tun­nel metaphor is a con­stant through­out the sto­ry, con­ceal­ing and reveal­ing details which keeps the read­er engaged and curi­ous to find out what is around the next bend.

Yehoshua’s sto­ry is one of Israeli-Pales­tin­ian rela­tion­ships as well as fam­i­ly devo­tion and sup­port, pep­pered through­out with his trade­mark wry humor. His mas­ter­ful use of lan­guage, expert­ly ren­dered in Stu­art Schoffman’s trans­la­tion, evokes both com­pas­sion and admi­ra­tion. The Tun­nel is a wor­thy addi­tion to the long-esteemed Yehoshua lit­er­ary canon.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions

Tzvi Luria, an engi­neer retired from the Israel Roads Author­i­ty, is suf­fer­ing from the begin­nings of demen­tia. He can’t remem­ber first names; he can’t remem­ber the code to turn on the igni­tion in his car; and once, when he is to pick up his grand­son from school, he brings home the wrong child. Both his physi­cian, and his lov­ing wife, Dina, encour­age Tzvi to stay active to fight off the dimin­ish­ment of his brain. He finds a way to serve as an unpaid con­sul­tant to a younger road engi­neer (a son of a for­mer col­league), who is assigned to plan a road in the Negev’ s Ramon Crater lead­ing to a secret army base. But the road needs to go over a hill, where there are archae­o­log­i­cal remains, and a Pales­tin­ian fam­i­ly who is tak­ing refuge there. Trans­lat­ed from the Hebrew by Stu­art Schoff­mann, Yehoshua’s lat­est nov­el is a com­pas­sion­ate and gen­tle look at aging, mar­i­tal love, iden­ti­ty, and per­haps some hints of Yehoshua’s cur­rent rumi­na­tions about Israel’s found­ing and polit­i­cal circumstance.