Friday, February 13, 2015

Israeli books: Gail Hareven's Lies, First Person is a visceral novel of ideas

gailharevenliesfirstpersoncover   "There are books that make us feel intensely and others that make us think deeply; one that does both is Gail Hareven’s opalescent and psychologically complex eleventh novel Lies, First Person (in the original Hebrew Hashkarim Ha’aharonim Shel Hagoof which literally translates as The Body’s Last Lies), which is only the second (The Confessions of Noa Weber) of her 13 books for adults to be published in English in Dalya Bilu’s fine translation." - From my New York Journal of Books review

Lies, First Person, Gail Hareven’s second novel to be translated into English (the eleventh of her thirteen adult books published in Hebrew), which is published today by Open Letter Books, is both an emotionally compelling narrative and a novel of ideas. Its characters find different ways of coping with the emotional aftermath of an unreported and unpunished crime, and the novel invites its readers to consider such questions as the nature of evil and the justification of vengeance and retribution." - From my examiner.com article, which begins with the next paragraph.

Israeli books: Gail Hareven's Lies, First Person is a visceral novel of ideas

Lies, First Person, Gail Hareven’s second novel to be translated into English (the eleventh of her thirteen adult books published in Hebrew), which is published today by Open Letter Books, is both an emotionally compelling narrative and a novel of ideas. Its characters find different ways of coping with the emotional aftermath of an unreported and unpunished crime, and the novel invites its readers to consider such questions as the nature of evil and the justification of vengeance and retribution.

In my New York Journal of Books review of the novel I praise it as a “beautifully written and powerful” … “multifaceted book that rewards rereading.” But I also have several reservations not least of which is the first person narrator’s endorsement of vigilante retribution. I unpack these issues in my NYJB review which also includes a plot synopsis. In an interview in the Jerusalem Report Hareven says “that vigilantes do not generally add justice to the world.”

But in the same interview Hareven finds “The use of the first person creates identification with the narrator.” For her narrator Elinor, “evil is a tangible being incarnated in Gothilf” (Elinor’s sister’s rapist). Hareven continues, “I don’t share all of the viewpoints of my characters, but I completely share this feeling of Elinor’s.” Hareven goes on to endorse a view of evil she attributes to American fiction writer Flannery O’Connor as “an ancient drive,” and that people commit evil deeds because they are indeed evil.

In my NYJB review I cite American writer Ron Rosenbaum’s diametrically opposite view expressed in an interview in The Daily Beast, “I’ve come to think that evil adheres in ideas more than in people. People are seduced by evil ideas.” Readers of Lies, First Person can decide for themselves whether to side with Elinor and Hareven or with Rosenbaum on the nature of evil.

In the Jerusalem Report interview Hareven also said that after writing Lies, First Person she began to question prisoner exchanges in which terrorists are freed: “I tried to understand in a serious way what this does to the victims and their families.” But Elinor and Hareven’s apparent endorsement of retribution has wider implications for their country which often finds itself, as was the case last summer, in retributive cycles of attack and counterattack with those very terrorists from which it is difficult to extract itself.

In my NYJB review I also point out that although Hebrew is a more concise language than English the two editions are the same number of pages. What, I wonder, is missing in the English edition? In the Jerusalem Report interview Hareven reveals that at least two sections of the novel contain literary allusions that non-Hebrew readers will not get, and so she decided to omit them from the English edition. Local Hebrew readers can find three copies of the Hebrew edition (ha-Shekarim ha-aharonim shel ha-guf) in Brooklyn Public Library. For English readers BPL has ordered eight copies, and New York Public Library has ordered ten copies. With so many ideas and emotions to discuss, Lies, First Person is an excellent choice for book groups.

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