The Confessions of Noa Weber

March 11th, 2010 by EVENTS


 The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven; trans. by Dalya Bilu

There are few things more exciting than an outstanding international author’s first English translation, and the opportunity for more than 400 million new readers to connect with her work. Gail Hareven is already a renowned author and playwright, an award-winning writer, and a public intellectual in her native Israel. But here, in these United States, she was largely unknown until early in 2009 when Melville House published The Confessions of Noa Weber, winner of the 2010 Best Translated Book Award.

Achingly honest, this book lays bare a complex woman, an intellectual and an outspoken feminist in her most vulnerable place–her relationship with a man, and the way it taints the rest of her relationships and the rest of her life. Broken up under various headings, but not quite discrete chapters, this is an overwhelming, decades-long intrusion into Noa Weber’s life. Though faintly comic, this is the story of a Noa’s brutal and binding love for Alek, her first love–more, it is the portrait of a contemporary woman in crisis.

I loved him and I yearned to marry him. Even worse, I yearned for him to marry me, to take me to be his wedded wife, to sanctify me. . . .

I can’t say why I love Alec. My love is not a function of any one of his attributes, not of those that I admire, and certainly not of those that are not to my liking. And nevertheless, when I think of my sexual addiction to him. . .

That this book is an intrusive one cannot be doubted; it is utterly confessional. But the author has made it a great deal more than that. Set in Israel, this book presents many of the painful conflicts that exist between Jews and their dispossessed neighbors, their homes, and among their fellow Jews in Israel and abroad. What we see represented–the secular Jews, the descendants of Jewish settlers, religious American Jews, European refugees–these are the the many faces of Judaism here, the many ways in which a people has fractured and been made strange. ” I was born in Sverlovsk,” Alec says, “later we lived in Moscow, Warsaw, Paris, and a few more on the way. A Jew’s story.” Noa’s own Jewish story is far different:

[W]e were from different cultures. . . . he was the immigrant and I [was] a descendant of the “Mayflower” in Israeli terms, forty-eight on my father’s side, the pioneers of the early twenties on my mother’s side. . . .

Hareven’s book isn’t merely honest, it is entirely inhabitable. Enthusiastic readers have their preferences and often have difficulty relating to new characters and subverting themselves to the conceits of the author. Hareven’s prose though is stirring and invasive; rendered in Dalya Bilu’s translation, it’s still evocative and one of the most clearly excellent books I read all year, translated or otherwise. This is a book that doesn’t merely manipulate the reader, it takes control of a reader’s emotions–mine, anyway– and it forced itself on me. I found this book unutterably relateable, even as a man. And as a Jew? It was an incredible depiction of our collective alienation from each other. It moved me.

But, unjustly, Gail Hareven remains largely unknown. Despite The New Yorker publishing one of her stories early this year, and despite the award we’ve heaped atop her pile of awards, Gail Hareven is not yet a household name. And she really ought to be.

Reviewed by Jeff Waxman

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven; trans. by Dalya Bilu
Melville House, 2009
Paper, 320 pp, $16.95
ISBN-13: 9781933633688

Posted in Reviews

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