Critical Mass

Book Buzz at the Salon du Livre


NBCC member Lauren Elkin,a PhD candidate in English literature at the Université de Paris VII and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, reports again this week from Paris, this time on four books that drew the most attention at this year’s Salon du Livre.

Eshkol Nevo’s “Homesick” (Chatto & Windus, April 22, 2008), was on the Israeli bestseller list for 60 weeks, and now features on the literature option of the Israeli equivalent of the baccalauréat exam, which Nevo says is confusing to the students, who read one thing in their history books and quite another in his novel. The novel itself takes place in a village between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and examines the meaning of “home” through the narrative lenses of six characters: two young Israeli students, their landlords, a Palestinian construction worker, and an Israeli student backpacking in South America. Told with warmth and empathy, “Homesick” embodies Orhan Pamuk’s observation that a writer has no politics because he can imagine what the other guy is thinking.

Judith Katzir, “Dearest Anne” (Feminist Press, CUNY, May 1, 2008), is from one of Israel’s bestselling authors. Inspired by reading Anne Frank’s diary, teenaged Rivi begins to keep a journal about her life as a teenager in rural Israel. The diary tells the story of a love between a teenaged girl, Rivi, and her married teacher, Michaela, that coincides with Rivi’s coming-of-age as a writer.

Etgar Keret, “The Girl on the Fridge” (FSG, April 15, 2008), from the author Salman Rushdie calls “the voice of the next generation.” At the Salon du Livre, Keret saidthat he envies writers who can turn out long meditative novels, and that he can only write in short, explosive bursts. “Flash fiction” is what the marketing people call it. “The Girl on the Fridge” features 46 of these sketch-explosions.

One luminary of the festival, Lizzie Doron, has not been published in the US yet, and is little-known in Israel. But she is a major voice in Germany and Switzerland. According to Ha’Aretz, Doron describes Israel as “the largest psychiatric hospital in the world for post-traumatic Jews,” and perhaps she should know: the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Doron worked as an occupational therapist for eight years. She writes, according to the Salon organizers, “with a glacial wit, closer to tears than to laughter.” Her books (“Why Didn’t You Come Before the War,“1998, “Once There was a Family,” 2002, “Days of Silence,” 2003, and “The Start of Something Beautiful,” 2007) have garnered international prizes and critical approval. Maybe it’s time she appeared in English.—Lauren Elkin