Fiction

The great leveller

Look For Me
Edeet Ravell

Randhom House Canada
$29.95
cloth
306pp
0-679-31296-X

For Jews, few subjects are more explosive than the Israeli settlements in Palestine. Family dinners ignite when the topic comes up. North American Jews who were children during World War II and then lived through the anti-Semitism of subsequent decades are understandably passionate. In their eyes, questioning the state of Israel, whose birth occurred during their early childhood and which symbolizes the ideals of peace and hope, is tantamount to betrayal. Their children and grandchildren have fewer qualms. As a result, a wall has sprung up between the generations, as divisive and impenetrable as the actual wall that Ariel Sharon’s government is now erecting to separate Arabs from Jews.

Montreal writer Edeet Ravel has courageously decided to write about the topic in not one novel, but three: the Tel Aviv Trilogy. The first volume, Ten Thousand Lovers, came out in 2003 and was a finalist for the Governor-General’s Literary Awards. Look for Me is the second.

Having spent her first seven years on a kibbutz near the Israeli-Lebanese border, Ravel is well placed to write about Israel. Her family eventually moved to Montreal, but Ravel returned to Israel as a university student, and after that earned a PhD in Jewish studies at McGill. Currently she divides her time between Canada and Israel, where, in the words of her dust jacket bio, she “does intensive political peace work.”

The heroine of Look for Me is Dana Hillman, an Israeli photographer in her thirties. Like the author, she spends a lot of time bringing blankets, food, and moral support to Palestinian people living in refugee camps. Her life, like that of most Israelis, has been irrevocably altered by war.

The novel’s first sentence describes Dana’s predicament: “Eleven years ago my husband caught fire while on reserve duty.” The Arab-Israeli conflict, which necessitates an active army and the regular training of Israeli reserve units, is ultimately responsible for the fire that mutilates Dana’s husband, Daniel. While recovering from the burns, he slips out of his hospital bed one night and deserts her.

Look for Me is constructed as a mystery, cleverly keeping the reader turning pages to find out what has become of Daniel and why he would leave his wife. Dana is a diehard romantic whose desire to find her mate is so intense she sweeps readers up in her momentum. Every year, on the anniversary of Daniel’s disappearance, she publishes a full-page ad in Israeli newspapers asserting, “I will never ever ever ever…stop waiting for you.”

In Ravel’s novels, war is the great leveller. There is no escape. It maims all of her characters, physically or spiritually. Lovers cannot live happily ever after; simply staying alive is enough of a challenge. Dana Hillman’s story is no exception, but she keeps right on loving, offering her heart to her missing husband and to all the damaged, frightened Israelis and Palestinians she meets in her quest to be reunited with him.

Like her heroine, Ravel has compassion for all the parties caught in this decades-long struggle for land and self-determination. Her description of the town of Dar al-Damar, reduced to rubble by Israeli tanks during a search for Palestinian militants, and her ardent defence of Palestinians in general will anger some readers. But others will be grateful for this bold novel that dares raise so many questions and refuses to give up on love. mRb

Claire Holden Rothman is a Montreal novelist and translator.

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