Avraham B. Yehoshua – The Tunnel

a.B. Yehoshua The tunnel
Avraham B. Yehoshua – The Tunnel

Slowly he is deteriorating and the verdict is clear: dementia. Zvi Luria, former road engineer, struggles with the diagnosis and the effects of the illness: increasingly, he is forgetting first names and once he could only be stopped at the last moment from picking up another boy than his grandchild from kindergarten. When he is invited to a farewell party of a former colleague, he visits his old office where he stumbles upon Asael Maimoni, the son of his last legal adviser, who is now occupying his post. Luria’s wife thinks it would be a good idea to get her husband’s brain filled with work again and thus he becomes Maimoni’s unpaid assistant in planning a tunnel in the Negev desert. When working on the road, he not only profits from his many years of experience that he can successfully use despite his slowly weakening memory, but he also learns a lot about his own country and the people he never tried to really get to know.

Yehoshua is one of the best known contemporary Israeli writers and professor of Hebrew Literature. He has been awarded numerous prizes for his work and his novels have been translated into many languages. Over and over again, Israel’s politics and the Jewish identity have been central in his works and this also plays an important part in his latest novel.

“The tunnel” addresses several discussion worthy topics. First of all, quite obviously, Luria’s dementia, what it does to him and how the old man and his surroundings cope with it. In an ageing society, this is something we all have come across and it surely isn’t an easy illness to get by since, on the one hand, physically, the people affected are totally healthy, but, on the other hand, the loss of memory gradually makes them lose independence and living with them becomes more challenging. If, like Luria, they are aware of the problems, this can especially hard if they had an intellectually demanding professional life and now experience themselves degraded to a child.

The second noteworthy aspect is the road-building which is quickly connected to the core Israeli question of how they treat non-Jewish residents and their culture. Not only an Arab family in hiding, due to a failed attempt to help them by a former commanding officer of the forces, opens Luria’s eyes on what is going on at the border clandestinely but with good intentions, but he also witnesses how officials treat the nomad tribe of Nabateans and their holy sites.

On a more personal level, the novel also touches questions of guilt and bad conscience as well as the possibility of changing your mind and behaviour even at an older age.

Wonderfully narrated with an interesting and loveable protagonist, it was a great joy to read this novel that I can highly recommend.

Adib Khorram – Darius the Great is not Okay

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Adib Khorram – Darius the Great is not Okay

Darius Kellner has never really fit in into Chapel Hill High-School, not just because he is half-Persian but also because of his depression which makes it hard for him to make friends. When is grandfather gets seriously ill, his whole family is flying to Yazd for the first time: his father, whom he considers an “Übermensch” because he is perfect in every respect, his beloved mother and his 8-year-old sister Laleh. Even though Iran is much less different from his home than expected, Darius, or Darioush as he is called there, makes masses of new experiences. He finds a good friend in Sohrab, plays football successfully and with fun, he tries out great Persian food and the family relationships somehow shift and allow him another look at how things are between himself and the rest of his family. When he returns, he is not the Darius he was before anymore, a bit of Darioush the Great has come with him to the US and he accepts that at times it is ok just not to be okay.

Adib Khoram’s novel presents a very different perspective on many things we know from novels. First of all, it is not an immigrant who comes to the US and has to adjust, but vice versa, an American boy, who even though he has a Persian mother is not speaking any Farsi, who discovers a country and its people of the Middle East. Khoram doesn’t play on clichés here, luckily, Darius does not come with too many ideas about his mother’s native country and enters it rather open-mindedly. Additionally, Darius is at the age where he could have his first girl-friend, but it is not a girl he meets and falls for, but a boy with whom he makes friends. And thirdly, the novel does not present a happy-end where everything is cured and everyone is fine. Darius still suffers from depression and has to fight for every little step in his life. Just travelling to Iran and back does not change everything.

I really enjoyed reading to book. Most of all because it gave a lot of interesting insight in the life in Iran, but also because it doesn’t pretend that life is easy and that everything can be fixed. None of the characters is perfect, they all make mistakes and they all feel awkward at times. In this respect, it is very authentic and convincing. I think it is great for teenagers who struggle with fitting in since the main message for me was that we all at times feel like outsiders and it is absolutely ok, not to fit in and to feel sad at times.

Claire Douglas – Do not Disturb

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Claire Douglas – Do Not Disturb

After her husband’s breakdown, Kirsty and her family move from London to Hywelphilly, a small village in Wales where they buy a guesthouse. After weeks of refurbishing, they look forward to welcoming the first guests, among them to Kirsty’s dislike her cousin Selena whom she hasn’t seen for more than sixteen years. They had been like sisters, but Selena’s constant lying lead to the inevitable break. Kirsty’s two daughters Evie and Amelia struggle with the move at first, but when Selena and her daughter Ruby arrive, the house awakes. The cousins manage to sort out their quarrels; yet, Kirsty cannot get rid of the feeling that Selena still does not tell her the complete truth. When Selena’s former boyfriend shows up to rent a room, the atmosphere gets tense and with the arrival of Kirsty’s brother and his wife, trouble is in the air. And then, the worst fears come true: Selena gets murdered.

I really liked the novel because Claire Douglas has well dosed the revelation of secrets the characters keep – and there are many of them. Everybody has something to hide, buried down in his or her mind, even the nice ones are not what they seem at the first glance. There is something mysterious about the house, the whispers of the village inhabitants add to this and many of the incidents are hard to make sense of.

The novel is told from Kirsty’s perspective, quite normally, you are biased in what she tells as you only get her limited point of view. On the other hand, this adds to the suspense and you can easily share her feeling of unease. To me, Kirsty is authentic in her action and in the way she tries to protect her family. Since it is not clear where the threat comes from, you suspiciously eye all the other characters simply to learn in the end that you were completely wrong. I absolutely liked that especially since the whole mystery is solved convincingly.

“Do not disturb” triggers the biggest fear: having evil in your own home, the place where you want to feel safe and secure and where you assume that also your children are protected. Many twists and turns and unexpected revelations keep suspense high throughout the novel, a mystery thriller just as it should be.

Hanif Kureishi – The Nothing

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Hanif Kureishi – The Nothing

Waldo, once a celebrated film maker is now not only old but also disabled and dependent on the people around him. Zenab, his wife can hardly stand his moody and hostile character. Where did the man go for whom she left her first husband? Eddie, also into the arts and always in Waldo’s shadow, comes to their London apartment more and more often until Waldo suspects him to have an affair with Zenab. Waldo starts to survey them secretly in order to confront them with the betrayal.

I really appreciate Hanif Kureishi’s novels and I have read several of them, some over and over again, but I am a bit at a loss with his latest novel. We have a very close observation of a man who is at the end of his life and slowly seems to lose contact with reality and gets increasing hostile. He is clever in manipulating the people around him, this makes him an outstanding character who is everything but lovable and yet interesting to observe in his action and his own void he has created. In contrast, he seems to be really in love with his wife and even though his body is decaying he still has bodily needs, expressed quite openly.

I was wondering what the novel was actually about, since I am used to Kureishi giving his readers food for thought. On the one hand, Waldo explains that being attractive, desirable and charismatic paired with good looks is all that matters. When your old and disabled, nobody cares for you, not matter how successful and influential you once might have been, people immediately forget about you when you do not fit in the picture anymore. This superficiality of our society and especially in the show business definitely is something that should be seen as highly critical. On the other hand, Waldo is face with his upcoming death. Several times he downright asks the other characters to kill him so that it is finally over. He learns the hard way that “growing old isn’t for pussies” (pos. 295) and can never make his peace with his life.

All in all, full of sarcasm and cynicism – but who can resent someone’s bad behaviour when his life is not perceived as worth living anymore and finally comes to an end?