Fic­tion

Two She-Bears

Meir Shalev
  • Review
By – September 9, 2016

A rifle, a cow, a tree, and a woman[…] and the rifle was not only the hero of this plot, it was also the one who wrote it.” In 1930 the British author­i­ties record­ed three sui­cides in a mosha­va—a Jew­ish colony — but one of these deaths, as every­one in the com­mu­ni­ty knew, was a mur­der, nev­er men­tioned again. Decades lat­er, while inter­viewed by a researcher on the his­to­ry of the set­tle­ment, Ruta Tavori decides that the time has come to tell the sto­ry trig­gered by the rifle, the sto­ry that every­one knows and no one tells.

Over the course of sev­er­al inter­views, Ruta, a teacher of his­to­ry and Bible, chron­i­cles the life of the mosha­va and the ugly mur­der that lies at the heart of her fam­i­ly. Ruta’s fam­i­ly and her life have been shaped by two pow­er­ful men: her grand­fa­ther, Ze’ev Tavori, who brought her and her broth­er up, and her hus­band, Eitan — each of whose lives have each been shaped by heart­break­ing events. Shift­ing back and forth in time, Ruta’s nar­ra­tive plays out the con­se­quences of these events with an even-hand­ed mea­sure of affec­tion, bit­ter­ness, humor, judg­men­tal swipes at her sis­ter-in-law and neigh­bors, Bib­li­cal allu­sions, wry self-dep­re­ca­tion, love, and accep­tance. Ruta’s retelling cap­tures the spir­it of the mosha­va from its found­ing to the near present: the new names that spelled the break from Europe — We’re done with all the Yankels and Shmerels and Mot­tels,” declared the found­ing father, call­ing his sons Dov, Ze’ev, and Arieh and chang­ing Twer­sky to Tavori; the deep knowl­edge of every tree and flower and rock; the abid­ing love of the phys­i­cal land; the dis­missal of city life and author­i­ty; the sim­ple lunch­es of hard cheese, cracked olives, cucum­ber, and garlic. 

Meir Shalev was born on Israel’s first moshav, and he draws a vibrant pic­ture of life in an agri­cul­tur­al set­tle­ment. Read­ers will feel as if they them­selves are hik­ing the trail to the carob tree, tend­ing the plants in the mosha­va nurs­ery, observ­ing the mil­i­tary-style set­ting up of an ambush, and sit­ting shi­va under the trees in this rich­ly lay­ered nar­ra­tive. A tale of mur­der and its rever­ber­a­tions through the years, a love sto­ry of deep phys­i­cal­i­ty and sen­si­tiv­i­ty, a mov­ing pic­ture of male com­pas­sion, a brief overview of British Pales­tine and Israel over sev­en decades, Two She-Bears is a many-sided nov­el by one of Israel’s most promi­nent writers.


Relat­ed Content:

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions