A Woman in Jerusalemby A. B. Yehoshua
A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies nameless in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of "gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee," the bakery's owner, overwhelmed by guilt,
A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies nameless in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of "gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee," the bakery's owner, overwhelmed by guilt, entrusts the task of identifying and burying the victim to a human resources man. This man is at first reluctant to take on the job, but as the facts of the woman's life take shape-she was an engineer from the former Soviet Union, a non-Jew on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and, judging by an early photograph, beautiful-he yields to feelings of regret, atonement, and even love.
At once profoundly serious and highly entertaining, A. B. Yehoshua astonishes us with his masterly, often unexpected turns in the story and with his ability to get under the skin and into the soul of Israel today.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
"Wherever this innovative, erudite, suggestive, mysterious writer-a true master of contemporary fiction-points us, there can be no doubt, it is essential that we go."-THE WASHINGTON POST
"Extraordinary . . . Yehoshua is so graceful and eloquent that his work's timeliness also succeeds, paradoxically, in making it timeless."
-THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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- First Edition
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- 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Read an Excerpt
A Woman in Jerusalem
By Yehoshua, A. B.
HarcourtCopyright © 2006 Yehoshua, A. B.
All right reserved.
EVEN THOUGH the manager of the human resources division had not sought such a mission, now, in the softly radiant morning, he grasped its unexpected significance. The minute the extraordinary request of the old woman who stood in her monk's robe by the dying fire was translated and explained to him, he felt a sudden lifting of his spirits, and Jerusalem, the shabby, suffering city he had left just a week ago, was once more bathed in a glow of importance, as it had been in his childhood.
AND YET the origins of his unusual mission lay in a simple clerical error brought to the company's attention by the editor of a local Jerusalem weekly, an error that could have been dealt with by any reasonable excuse and brief apology. However, fearing that such an apology-- which might indeed have laid the matter to rest-- would be deemed inadequate, the stubborn eighty-seven-year-old owner of the company had demanded a more tangible expression of regret from himself and his staff, a clearly defined gesture such as the one that had resulted in this journey to a distant land.
What had upset the old man so? Where had the almost religious impulse that drove him come from? Could it have been inspired by the grim times that the country, and above all Jerusalem, were going through, which he had weathered unharmed; sothat his financial success, as other businesses foundered, called for vigilance in warding off the public criticism that now, ironically, was about to be aired in newsprint of which he himself was the supplier? Not that the reporter whose scathing feature article would break the story-- a political radical and eternal doctoral candidate with the restraint of a bull in this intimate china shop of a city-- was aware of all this when he wrote the piece, or he would have toned it down. Yet it was the paper's editor and publisher, loath to ruin a colleague's weekend with an unpleasant surprise that might spoil their business relations, who had decided, after taking a look at the story and its accompanying photograph of the torn, bloodstained pay stub found in the murdered woman's shopping bag, to let the old man respond in the same issue.
Nor was it really such a shocking expose. Nevertheless, at a time when pedestrians were routinely exploding in the streets, troubled consciences turned up in the oddest places. And so at the end of that particular workday, when the human resources manager, having promised his ex-wife that he would leave the office on time to be with their only daughter, had tried to evade the owner's summons, the old man's veteran office manager had refused to let him. Sensing her boss's agitation, she'd hastened to advise the resource manager to put his family duties aside.
ON THE WHOLE, relations between the two men were good. They had been so ever since the resource manager, then in the sales division, had unearthed several Third World markets for the company's new line of paper and stationery products. And so, when his manager's marriage was on the rocks, in part because of his frequent travels, the old man had reluctantly agreed to appoint him temporary head of the human resources division, a job that would allow him to sleep at home every night and try to repair the damage. Yet the hostility engendered by his absence was only distilled into a more concentrated poison by his presence, and the chasm between them-- at first psychological, then intellectual, and finally sexual-- continued to grow of its own accord. Now that he was divorced, all that kept him from returning to his old job, which he had liked, was his determination to stay close to his daughter.
As soon as he'd appeared in the doorway of the owner's spacious office, where the elegantly muted light never changed with the time of day or year, the article due to appear in the local weekly was dramatically hurled at him.
"An employee of ours?" The resource manager found that hard to credit. "Impossible. I would have known about it. There must be some mistake."
The owner did not answer. He simply held out the galleys, which the resource manager read quickly while still standing. The odious article was entitled "The Shocking Inhumanity Behind Our Daily Bread." Its subject was a forty-year-old woman found critically wounded after a bombing in the Jerusalem market the week before. Her only identifying mark had been a pay stub issued by the company. For two days she had fought for her life in the hospital without any of her employers or fellow workers taking the slightest interest in her. Even after her death, she had lain in the hospital morgue abandoned and unidentified, her fate unmourned and her burial unprovided for. (There followed a brief description of the company and its large, well-known bakery, founded at the beginning of the last century by the owner's grandfather and recently augmented by the new line of paper products.) Two photographs accompanied the text. One, taken years ago, was an old studio portrait of the owner; the other was of the human resources manager. It was dark and blurry, evidently snapped recently, without his knowledge. The caption noted that he owed his position to his divorce.
"The little weasel!" the resource manager muttered. "What a flimsy smear job . . ."
But the old man wanted action, not complaints. It wasn't the tone of the article that bothered him-- yellow journalism was the fashion nowadays-- but its substance. Since the editor had been kind enough to allow them to respond immediately, which might defuse charges that would gain ground if uncontested for a week, they had better find out who the woman was and why no one knew anything about her. In fact-- why not?-- they should contact the weasel himself to see what he knew. It was anyone's guess what he meant to pull next.
In a word, the human resources manager would have to drop everything and concentrate on this. Surely he understood that his responsibility was to deal not just with vacations, sick leaves, and retirements, but with death as well. If the article were to be published without a satisfactory response from them, its accusations of inhumanity and callous greed might arouse public protests that would affect their sales. After all, theirs wasn't just any bakery: the proud name of its founder was affixed to every loaf that left the premises. Why give their competitors an unfair edge?
"An unfair edge?" The human resources manager snorted. "Who cares about such things? And especially in times like these . . ."
"I care." The owner's replied irritably. "And especially in times like these." The resource manager bowed his head, folded the article, and stuck it matter-of-factly in his pocket, anxious to escape before the old man blamed him not only for keeping flawed records but for the bomb attack, too. "Don't worry," he said with a reassuring smile. "I'll make this woman my business first thing tomorrow morning."
The tall, heavyset, expensively dressed old man sat up, very pale, in his chair. His great pompadour of ancient hair swelled in the muted light like the plumes of a royal pheasant. His hand gripped his employee's shoulder with the full force of his threatened reputation. "Not tomorrow morning," he said slowly and with painstaking clarity. "Tonight. This evening. Now. No time to waste. I want all this cleared up before dawn. In the morning we'll send the paper our response."
"This evening? Now?" The resource manager was startled. He was sorry, but it was too late for that. He was in a hurry. His wife-- his ex-wife, that is-- was out of town and he had promised to look after their daughter and drive her to her dance class; what with all the bus bombings, they didn't want her taking public transportation. "What's the hurry?" he asked. "The damn paper comes out on Fridays. It's only Tuesday. There's plenty of time."
But the owner was too worried about his humanity to relent. No, there was no time at all. The paper, distributed free along with the weekend editions of the national tabloids, went to press Wednesday night. If their response wasn't in by then, it would have to wait another week; meanwhile they would be open to all kinds of accusations. If the resource manager didn't wish to take care of this-- and thoroughly-- let him say so. There was no problem finding someone else-- perhaps to run the human resources division, too . . .
"Just a minute. I didn't mean to . . ." The casually delivered ultimatum stung and bewildered him. "What am I supposed to do with my daughter? Who'll take care of her? You've met her mother," he added bitterly. "She'll murder me . . ."
"That's who'll take care of her," the owner interrupted, pointing to his office manager, who turned red at the thought of being entrusted with the chore.
"What do you mean?"
"What do you think I mean? She'll drive your daughter and look after her like her own child. And now let's roll up our sleeves and prove that we're as human as the weasel . . . that we care. For God's sake, my good man, is there any choice? No, there isn't."
2004 Abraham B. Yehoshua
English translation 2006 by Hillel Halkin
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Meet the Author
A. B. YEHOSHUA is the author of numerous novels, including Mr. Mani, Five Seasons, The Liberated Bride, and A Woman in Jerusalem. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, and he has received many awards worldwide, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Jewish Book Award. He lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
An author, journalist, and internationally reknowned, awarding-winning translator, Hillel Halkin has translated several novels from Hebrew into English.
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