Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven, translated by Dalya Bilu
2009, 331 pages

Noa Weber is a successful Israeli author of crime thrillers that feature a female-lawyer version of James Bond, Nira Woolf. Now, however, she is sitting down to write a confession of her all-consuming unrequited love for Alek, which has ruled her life.

This is the first book translated into English by Israeli author Gail Hareven. Hareven certainly has a way with words, although credit should also go to her translator, Dalya Bilu. The writing in this book pulled me in from the first page, and it was a pleasure to read. The writing should be savored, and a couple of times I had to put the book down because it was late at night and I knew I was too tired to really appreciate the prose. There are far too many passages I'd love to quote from this novel, so I'll just put in the first paragraph to give you a feel for her writing style:
The city of J lies at the top of the hills of J. That's how I'd like to begin my story; at a calm distance, with a deep breath, in a panoramic shot focusing very slowly on a single street, and very slowly on a single house, "this is the house where I was born." But you'd be making a fool of yourself if your J were Jerusalem, since every idiot knows about Jerusalem. And altogether it's impossible to talk about Jerusalem any more. Impossible, that is to say, without "winding alleys" and "stone courtyards," "caper bushes" and "Arab women in the market place." And I have nothing to say about caper bushes and stone courtyards, nor do I have the faintest desire to flavor my story with the colorful patios of colorful Jerusalem characters, twirling their mustaches as they spin Oriental tales.  (p8)
 This book was written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, with Noa moving back and forth between different times of her life, defeating her efforts to tell her story in a linear fashion. I thought this format worked well for the novel, and was intrigued to read about Noa's relationship with Alek and her growth into an independent feminist woman who is still debilitated by this love. I enjoyed reading about Nira Woolf, the protagonist of Weber's crime novels, who serves as a foil to the love-stricken Noa. For example:
Nira Woolf, for example, would not make that mistake, because my Nira is first of all a moral being, and it's quite clear to her what's important and what's not. Fighting for the rights of dispossessed Arabs, defrauded patients, oppressed women, abused children, and so on, exposing the "system," saving the innocent and stamping out evil - that's important. But pining and whining about luuuve when your heart's broken, all that's just self-indulgence and nonsense as far as she's concerned. (p37)
However, the novel started to drag towards the middle - after the story moved past the first phase of her relationship with Alek I felt like there was less to tell and lost some of my interest. I also had to re-read the final chapter several times, and I'm still not completely sure I understand it. Although Noa claims that "there isn't going to be any historical panorama here, only me, me and my life," I think having some knowledge of Israeli politics/history is definitely helpful in understanding the conversations and events that take place over the course of the book.

I loved the writing in this book, and for the most part the plot as well. It's a book that I think I need to reread to fully appreciate, and is definitely a book to take your time with. It's hard for me to recommend this book, because while the writing is excellent and the story is interesting, it does drag in parts and it may be a tad confusing if you don't know much about the political history of Israel. Overall, I enjoyed it, and hope that I'll have time to reread it someday. In the meantime, here's one last quote - I couldn't resist!
 Let's say Noa Weber is suddenly sixty-eight. A bony body full of the opinions of a militant old lady, climbing tip-tap up those same old stairs. An old body full of opinions entering its old house, and lying down on the same old bed to give its feet a rest. And when this Noa Weber finally lies down, what exactly runs through her brain's worn-out connections? Does she polish up one of her correct opinions? Reflect compassionately about one of the victims in her books? Does she think about reforming society and justice for all? Definitely not. Just like now, Noa Weber thinks about him. (p11-12)


  1. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the warning that it's slow in parts.

  2. It must be such a challenge to translate an entire book! Very nice review.

    Une Parole

  3. Thanks for the excellent review -- this sounds like a good book. I am intrigued by novels written in a stream-of-consciousness style.

  4. sounds interesting! I haven't read much by Israeli authors.

  5. Yep, that first example really drew me in. I'm going to have to look for this one.