Sunday, November 01, 2009

OTC 9: "A Woman in Jerusalem" -- Israel

This is my 9th novel for the Orbis Terrarum 2009 Challenge.

A Woman in Jerusalem by A. B. Yehoshua, originally published in Hebrew in 2004, English translation by Hillel Halkin published in 2006.

Following a terrorist bombing in a market in Jerusalem, the body of one victim -- a woman in her late 40s -- is not claimed by anyone, nor are there any identifying papers found on her except for the stub of a paycheck from a large bakery. An article by a muckraking journalist takes the bakery to task for not having come forward to identify the victim nor to have assisted in locating her family nor even in burying her. Stung by these accusations, the elderly head of the bakery assigns his director of human resources to identify the woman, to make whatever arrangements are necessary for her burial, and to locate and compensate her family.

Although this introduction to the plot sounds as if it could easily lead to a grim, dark, pessimistic novel, in fact the work is much the opposite. While not exactly a comedy, it is filled with wry, surprisingly gentle humor as the unnamed human resources director tracks down the identify of the woman and untangles her complicated story, becoming more and more involved in her life as he does, and gaining some much-needed perspective into his own life in the process. There are pain and sorrow in the story as it unfolds, but there is also a deeply human compassion that serves to make the lives of the characters -- particularly that of an anonymous cleaning woman -- moving and meaningful. I highly recommend this book.


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