Esau is a saga of several generations in a family of bakers spanning the period from World War I and the inception of the British Mandate in Palestine through the mid-seventies in Israel. Patriarch Abraham Levy, the proud descendant of fifteen generations of Sephardic Jews, and his wife, the convert Sarah, a monumental, generous woman, illiterate and complex, establish themselves in a village to the west of Jerusalem and become the center of a sprawling, colorful family whose passions, suffering, and unexpected fates partake of both the real and the mythic, not to mention the miraculous.
Esau's eponymous narrator is one of a pair of near-sighted Levy twins, who have only a single set of eyeglasses between them. The life choice each boy makes as a result of this childhood experience determines the course of the novel: Jacob, who wears the eyeglasses most of the time, follows his father and becomes the village baker, marrying Leah, fathering children, and shouldering the responsibility of ancestral tradition; while the narrator, with his willfully blurred vision, is cursed and disinherited by his beloved mother and leaves his family and village to become a writer in the United States. After thirty years of exile, he returns home and offers us the brilliant and deeply moving mosaic that is the story of the Levy family.
Like his progenitor, Meir Shalev, the narrator finds his portion of the world in books, and the two of them share a Rabelaisian appetite for story and character, an exuberant playfulness, a mischievous sense of irony, and a fascination with the sensuality of childhood, those images, sounds, and odors at the origin of all memory and roots.
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A novel of epic scope and universal themes that chronicles half a century in the life of a family and a nation, from the bestselling Israeli author of The Blue Mountain.From Kirkus Reviews:
Noted Israeli writer Shalev (The Blue Mountain, 1991) takes his time getting nowhere in particular as he tries to put a contemporary spin on the legendary biblical story of a lost inheritance and sibling rivalry. Set in Israel, the story is narrated by Esau, who fled to America when his beloved Leah was wooed and won by twin brother Jacob. Now in his late 50s, Esau is back home visiting his dying father, Abraham Levy, a descendant of illustrious sages but a baker by trade, who had fallen in love and married the splendid red- haired Sarah, daughter of Russian peasant converts who had immigrated to Israel early in the century. Humiliated by the loan her family made after his business was destroyed by an earthquake in 1927, Abraham soon, to Sarah's great sorrow, ignored her. Esau recalls his parents' courtship, his village childhood, his rivalry with Jacob, and the events that led to his flight. He also includes stories of Jacob, who stayed behind with Leah and still works in the bakery. In America, Esau became a food writer, but he never forgot his deep love for Leah or for his mother, though Sarah cursed him when he left home, telling him that ``you won't have family of your own... You won't have wife of your own... You won't have child of your own.'' Which all came to pass. The family history doesn't make the impact it should: Jacob's son is killed in Israel's War of Independence, and Leah, overwhelmed by grief, sleeps the rest of her life away. Though she bears another son, conception and birth do not interrupt her slumber. Nothing is resolved despite pretentious hints, fleshed out by tiresome bits of magic realism (an old aunt has miraculous suckling powers) that promise more. For all its bravado and braggadocio, this novel never quite goes mano a mano with its subject. Arm wrestling without the table. -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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