Israeli-born writer Edeet Ravel, a finalist for the Canadian Governor General's Literary Award for Ten Thousand Lovers, tenders another understated narrative jewel with A WALL OF LIGHT (HarperCollins, August 5, 2005). With elegant concision, Ravel unravels the story of three generations in a Tel Aviv family — from the 1950s to the present — as they wrestle with matters of the heart amid the turbulent, often violent climate of their emerging nation. .
At the center of the story is Sonya Vronsky, a thirty-two-year-old mathematics professor at the university. Sonya, who lost her hearing as a girl because of a hospital mishap, and later survived a violent assault while a student in college, now lives with her protective, older half-brother, Kostya, a doctor whose activist attorney wife was murdered. Despite these family tragedies, though, Sonya and Kostya have settled into a mostly contented, ordinary life. But on the morning of the August day that unfolds in A WALL OF LIGHT, Sonya senses a series of small, unexpected events, and she is seized by the inclination to shake things up. "On this remarkable day," she tells the reader at the outset, "I kissed a student, pursued a lover, found my father, and left my brother."
Sonya's unconventional approach to the ensuing day — and to life in general — lands her in a sexual encounter with a charismatic Palestinian taxi driver, who, discovering that Sonya is deaf, and wondering whether she is perhaps a little bit crazy, makes a hasty exit. But Sonya, despite the brevity of the tryst, has quite emphatically fallen in love with the stranger, and is determined to find him. Her search takes her to East Jerusalem and the Arab neighborhood that has recently been partitioned off by the starkly alienating, monolithic wall. This journey to find Khalid underscores the perpetual Israeli-Arab rift that has defined, and defiled, her country's identity.
As Sonya's adventurous day plays out, the rest of the Vronskys' stories are revealed through letters and diary entries. Sonya's mother, Anna, came to Israel with young Kostya, after defecting from the Soviet Union. In a series of unanswered letters to the lover she left behind — Kostya's father — Anna writes of the hardships and pleasures of adjusting to life in a strange new country that was then less than a decade old. Her liberal bias, often at odds with the views of other settlers, will be passed on to Kostya and Sonya, who in their quiet way will seek a sensible alternative to the nationalist policies that shape so many of the country’s policies.
Kostya's son, Noah, offers the third perspective through twelve years of diary entries that begin in 1980. Noah, who struggles with his sexual identity, is nonetheless secure in his familial devotion and his adherence to their nonviolent beliefs. He is more of a realist than his artistic grandmother, idealistic father, and eccentric aunt, and even when his militant mother is killed, Noah remains grounded. When he leaves Israel to study in Berlin, though, he will experience a strange blend of nostalgia and exasperation towards the provincial, combative land he has left behind.
The lives of the Vronsky's provide a prism through which Ravel refracts aspects of everyday life in Israel. Grounded in reality, yet driven by a fanciful sense of the power of chance, A WALL OF LIGHT is a poignant, compelling novel with intriguing allegorical undercurrents from a gifted, insightful writer with a keen wit and lyrical eye.
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An epiphanic day in the life of a deaf Tel Aviv University math professor, Sonya Vronsky, holds center court, while Sonya's mother and cousin also offer journal entries containing some family history. The mother, Anna, a new refugee to Israel, writes to her lover back in Russia during the late 1950s, while her cousin, Noah, in his youthful diary reveals the milieu he and Sonya grew up in during the 1980s. First, though, Sonya, at 33, has been living with her attentive older brother, Kostya, in a gorgeous house in Tel Aviv he purchased out of guilt for the defining catastrophes of Sonya's life: her deafness, caused by an overdose of medicine given when she had a kidney infection at age 12; and a vicious rape she survived as a young student when twin drugged-out teenagers broke into her deserted university classroom. Sonya, as she reveals in her breezy journals, is a remarkably resilient character devoid of self-pity or sense of entitlement; she is determined to live her life her own way—that is, lose her virginity properly and take a lover. Goaded by a flirtation with one of her students, she proceeds to seduce the Arab taxi driver who brings her home, and afterward she convinces her brother and friends to help her find him again. In her journal, Anna, newly escaped from the Soviet Union and living with young son Kostya, records her involvement with an amateur theater production; Anna will learn of her lover's death, precipitating her dark journey into alcoholism. Noah, in turn, will venture into adolescent flirtations and the trial of serving in the Israeli army.
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