The Want­i­ng

By – January 25, 2013

Ter­ror­ism can come in many forms. Is state-spon­sored per­se­cu­tion and injus­tice any less painful for fam­i­lies and loved ones of the vic­tims? Or the sur­vivors? Michael Lav­i­gne scru­ti­nizes the minds and souls not only of vic­tims but of per­pe­tra­tors as well. What do they want?

Amir, a young Arab, det­o­nates his sui­cide belt at a bus stop direct­ly below Roman Guttman’s office. Roman is mirac­u­lous­ly alive, sur­round­ed by the shat­tered win­dow. An émi­gré from the for­mer Sovi­et Union, he is a sur­vivor yet again. He will recov­er from his phys­i­cal injuries, but he strug­gles, embark­ing on a dan­ger­ous odyssey, in his quest for mean­ing. He per­ceives the head of the bomber tag­ging along.

Dis­em­bod­ied Amir, denied Par­adise (tem­porar­i­ly, he hopes), doomed to fol­low Roman, thinks back to his child­hood, when his cousin and hero, Fadi, asked him to wait in an ice cream par­lor while he left with his friends to plot an adven­ture.’ Amir tried to fol­low, couldn’t catch up, and lost the chance for a deli­cious banana split. I am cer­tain that what I felt that day, I also feel today: a want­i­ng for some­thing I have nev­er tast­ed, but with­out which life can­not be said to have been prop­er­ly lived.”

The third voice is that of Roman’s thir­teen year old daugh­ter, Anna (Anyusha), who has nev­er known her moth­er — the beau­ti­ful, ethe­re­al, refusenik, Col­lette — seen in flash­backs. Sur­vivor Anna search­es as well; her path, too, puts her in harm’s way.

The shards of glass in the open­ing sequence could rep­re­sent the lives of the pro­tag­o­nists; glit­ter­ing, frag­ile, long­ing to be made whole. Roman Guttman’s thirst, as he ignores his body’s needs, is both real and metaphor­i­cal. After the bomb­ing, Anna begins a jour­nal, hop­ing that if she writes about her father hale and well, life will imi­tate art.

Michael Lavigne’s prose is con­fi­dent, pow­er­ful, and lyri­cal. The read­er is smooth­ly shift­ed between time and place; hal­lu­ci­na­tion and/​or fan­ta­sy and reality.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

Discussion Questions

1. Why does the author place the action in three dis­tinct loca­tions – Israel, The Ter­ri­to­ries, and Moscow? What impact did that have on you as read­ers? Like­wise, the action takes place in dif­fer­ent time peri­ods, none of them present – how did that impact your under­stand­ing of the story?

2. One of the cen­tral themes of the nov­el is the search for, or the defense of, home. How does this theme play out for each of the char­ac­ters? What does it mean to them, and to you, to have a home,” and why is it so dif­fi­cult to achieve?

3. What oth­er themes do you rec­og­nize in the novel?

4. The book opens when a sui­cide bomber kills scores of peo­ple out­side Roman Guttman’s office. Why do you think the bomb­ing is only report­ed, and not actu­al­ly wit­nessed in the nov­el? What do you make of the head float­ing past Guttman’s window?

5. What role does God play in the nov­el? Is He a char­ac­ter? A fig­ment of the imag­i­na­tion? An iron­ic pres­ence? A true force?

6. How did you feel about Amir and did it change through­out the book?

What did you take from the fact that Amir is an artist in the mak­ing? What do you think real­ly dri­ves Amir to com­mit such a destruc­tive act? Can you imag­ine your­self or any­one you know dri­ven to such an end?

7. How was Anyusha, the daugh­ter, impact­ed by the bomb­ing? Giv­en that she was already under the influ­ence of Rab­bi Keren and Miri­am, do you think she would have gone down the same path if the bomb­ing had nev­er hap­pened? How did you per­ceive to her involve­ment in the Sec­ond Tem­ple” movement?

8. Anyusha hears a mul­ti­tude of con­fus­ing voic­es – but in the end hears only one voice. What are these voic­es? What are they try­ing to tell her? Why does she want them to dis­ap­pear? How do they shape her?

9. Col­lette has eth­i­cal choic­es to make regard­ing her unborn daugh­ter. What were your feel­ings about Col­lette? Did she make the right deci­sions in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances or not? Which is more impor­tant: one’s fam­i­ly or ones ideals?

10. Anoth­er theme in the book is that of the absent par­ent” – the chasm between moth­er and daugh­ter, father and son, which exists for Amir, Roman, and espe­cial­ly Anyusha, who expe­ri­ences her mother’s phys­i­cal absence and her father’s spir­i­tu­al empti­ness. Do you think it is pos­si­ble to recap­ture what is lost in such cas­es? Are there pos­i­tive aspects to such a quest?

11. Var­i­ous ide­olo­gies play an impor­tant role in the nov­el: Com­mu­nism, Zion­ism, Islam­ic fun­da­men­tal­ism, Pales­tin­ian nation­al­ism. In what ways are the char­ac­ters affect­ed by their ide­olo­gies? In what ways do these ide­olo­gies enno­ble the human spir­it and in what ways do they crush the human spirit?

12. The author draws a vivid pic­ture of life in the Sovi­et Union, includ­ing a tri­al scene and a descrip­tion of prison. What are your mem­o­ries or asso­ci­a­tions with this peri­od, and do you see any con­nec­tion to the present? Is it pos­si­ble to escape our pasts or are we doomed to act them out over and over?

13. Does the author take a posi­tion on the Israeli/​Palestinian con­flict? If so, what do you think it is? If not, why not, and how does it make you feel about the book?

14. The author employs var­i­ous gen­res with­in the nov­el: the play form, sto­ries with­in sto­ries, a short fairy tale, talk­ing ani­mals and the like. Why do you think he does this, and what was the impact on you, the reader?