Title: A Woman in Jerusalem
Author: A.B. Yehoshua; translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin
Pages: 237 pgs.
First sentence: Even though the manager of the human resources division had not sought such a mission, now, in the softly radiant morning, he grasped its unexpected significance.
There was a lot of hope for the future of the Middle East when the Oslo accords were first signed. However, as many of you probably know, with both sides disappointed in the implementation of the accords, the fall of the Oslo peace process in September 2000 was marked by the start of the second Intifada, the second wave of violence between Palestinians and Israelis since 1967. The violence did not begin to abate until the death of Yasser Arafat at the end of 2004, and the relative success of the Sharm el-Sheikh peace summit in February 2005. Marked by Palestinian suicide bombings in Jerusalem and other cities, and Israeli military excursions into West Bank, Gaza, and other Palestinian settlements, more than 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed in a seven year period.
A Woman in Jerusalem, a novel by A.B. Yehoshua, takes place in Jerusalem around 2002. An immigrant woman is killed by a suicide bombing at her local market. Her body lies unidentified for a week, the only clue to her identity a bloody pay stub from a local bakery. After a tabloid newspaper article is written about the bakery's callousness towards her death, the human resource manager is sent on a mission to identify the woman and return her body to her family.
The only character that receives a name in the story Yulia Ragayev, the cleaning woman from the bakery who was killed. All other characacters are referred to by their positions: human resources manager, owner, office manager, consul, ex-husband, young son. It is a technique that works extremely well for the style of the novel. I especially liked the italicized inserts of the thoughts of random bystanders to the story line: the bakery's shift workers, Yulia's neighbor's, her mother's fellow villagers.
The story line certainly sounds dreary and depressing, but it is ultimately a story of hope and humor. The final scenes may not appeal to many readers, but I felt they were perfectly appropriate to the characters Yehoshua created. This is the first of his novels I have read, it will certainly not be the last.
Some of my favorite quotes:
'What was he fighting for? To cover up the night shift supervisor's blunder?...Or--he could feel the thought grope its way to the surface--was it to reclaim the dignity of an engineer come from afar to be a cleaning woman in Jerusalem. To let her know--her and whoever had loved her--that her suffering and death hadn't gone unnoticed because of anyone's callousness?' (p.29)
"When everything around us is collapsing, it's pathological to fight it." (p.37)
Tell us, you hard people: After desecrating the Holy Land and turning murder and destruction into a way of life, by what right do you now trample on our feelings? Is it because you and your enemies have learned to kill each other and yourselves with such crazy impunity, bombing and sowing endless destruction, that ou think you can leave a coffin, with no explanation or permission, in the courtyard of an apartment building in someone else's country and disappear without so much as a by-your-leave? (p.172)