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.