Homesick, by Eshkol Nevo, trans. Sondra Silverston

A bipartisan tale of two wars
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The Independent Culture

Eshkol Nevo's first novel takes place in Castel, a hilltop village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is an overlapping, multiple-viewpoint narrative set in 1995 at the time of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Written in 2004, and seamlessly translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, this is a welcome introduction to a new Israeli novelist who takes his place with Amos Oz and AB Yehoshuah.

Homesick focuses on the relationship between student psychologist Amir and his student-photographer girlfriend Noa, but it moves fast to absorb the voices of their neighbours and covers several generations of Jews and Palestinians. Most striking is Nevo's capacity to chart the delicate shifts in relationships and his skill in evoking longing for love, for a lost home, for parental attention and for renewal in stale marriage. He mixes his poignant observations of failing love with irony and occasional farce.

Avram, whose soldier son has been killed in Lebanon, finds Saddiq, a Palestinian construction worker, entering his house. He has no idea that Saddiq is returning to his family home, now occupied by Jews. This father takes Saddiq for his dead son and when the police are called there is mayhem.

Skilfully, Nevo creates an anarchic scene with many layers. As the village learns of the kerfuffle, Noa wants to photograph Saddiq in front of Avram's house. By the time she gets her camera he has been arrested. Later, when Arabs are no longer allowed to be employed in Israel, she asks his replacement, a Romanian labourer, to pose in his place. Of course, the photograph fails. Nevo creates vivid female characters and easily reveals their inner world. I like the way Noa's rival for Amir's love, Sima, aroused after an afternoon of almost-kissing Amir, rushes her own husband to bed.

Although Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are almost absent in the novel, the road to Jerusalem, with its rusting tanks, constantly reminds the reader of the state of permanent war which filters through each day. Politics suffuses the book very delicately.

Nevo does not take sides between men and women or between Israeli and Palestinian. The mess of personal and political is charted with no moral overview. The narrative is a mix of first and third person; inner monologue with occasional dialogue. The effect is surprising and pleasing. Nevo has created an engrossing work. His gift is to make the characters jump out of the pages. This is a compelling novel which I never wanted to end.

Eshkol Nevo appears at Jewish Book Week on 24 February: