A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies nameless in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of "gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee," the bakery's owner, overwhelmed by guilt, entrusts the task of identifying and burying the victim to a human resources man. This man is at first reluctant to take on the job, but as the facts of the woman's life take shape - she was an engineer from the former Soviet Union, a non-Jew on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and, judging by an early photograph, beautiful - he yields to feelings of regret, atonement, and even love.
At once profoundly serious and highly entertaining, A. B. Yehoshua astonishes us with his masterly, often unexpected turns in the story and with his ability to get under the skin and into the soul of Israel today.
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. The minute the extraordinary request of the old woman who stood in
her monks robe by the dying fire was translated and explained to him, he felt a
sudden lifting of his spirits, and Jerusalem, the shabby, suffering city he had
left just a week ago, was once more bathed in a glow of importance, as it had
been in his childhood.
AND YET the origins of his unusual mission lay in a simple clerical error brought to the companys attention by the editor of a local Jerusalem weekly, an error that could have been dealt with by any reasonable excuse and brief apology. However, fearing that such an apology which might indeed have laid the matter to rest would be deemed inadequate, the stubborn eighty-seven-year-old owner of the company had demanded a more tangible expression of ...
This is not a book about Jerusalem per se. In fact, with a few changes here and there the story could have been located in almost any city that attracts migrant workers and where people have become somewhat blasé to violence and death (and, sadly, there are quite a few such places these days).
The title makes more sense (or less, depending on one's perspective) with Yehoshua's explanation that in all the other translations other than English, the book is titled The Mission of the Human Resources Manager. However, the British and Americans firmly demanded a change of title as they feared the original would be misinterpreted as an instruction manual - so the author agreed to the change "painfully and with great difficulty". (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (621 words).
One of Israel's preeminent writers, the novelist, essayist and playwright Abraham B. Yehoshua (b. 1936) has been awarded the Israel Prize, the Koret Jewish Book Award, and the National Jewish Book Award. Born in Jerusalem, he lives in Haifa where he is a professor of Literature. He studied Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at the Hebrew University and has since taught at high school and university level. He also taught in Paris while living there from 1963 to 1967. He is known publicly as A. B. Yehoshua, and familiarly as "Boolie". When asked about his formative influences he names Franz Kafka, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, and William Faulkner
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