The story opens in
Jerusalem sometime during the "Second Intifada" (that began in September 2000 and
arguably has not yet ended). Our unnamed protagonist finds himself charged
with repatriating the body of a former low-level employee who has been killed
in a suicide bombing to an unnamed former
Soviet country, and thus starts a somewhat surreal journey which provides Yehoshua a stage on which to muse on big themes such as identity, family and
home, and our moral obligations to others.
I was thrown a little off kilter when first reading A Woman in Jerusalem, firstly by the writing style that retained a certain "foreignness" in its translation, but mostly because the title led me to believe that this would be a novel about Jerusalem, whereas the city was incidental to the storyline. 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).
Things made more sense on reading an interview with Yehoshua in which he explains that in Hebrew, and in all the other translations other than English, the book title is The Mission of the Human Resources Manager, but the English language publishers (at least the British and Americans) firmly demanded a change of title as they feared the original would be misinterpreted as an instruction manual - a change that he agreed to "painfully and with great difficulty".
When asked what he was aiming for with this book Yehoshua says that it started as a novella but extended into something longer. He explains that, "In the course of writing, its hidden religious essence became apparent to me - I call the work a passion ... that is to say a combination of desire and suffering. Between death and rebirth."
He goes on to say, "The sociological and political matter of life in Israel during the time of terror attacks in no way came up as a subject in this work. It also wasn't my intention to deal with any side tied to the conflict with the Palestinians. The subject was the journey from alienation and emotional apathy towards obligation, responsibility and love."
As always, you can decide for yourself whether this is a book for you by browsing an excerpt at BookBrowse and a range of reviewer comments (abbreviated to the essential opinion thus avoiding repetition and annoying plot spoilers).
This review was originally published in August 2006, and has been updated for the August 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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