A rising star of international letters, Zeruya Shalev takes us on a compelling narrative journey in the exquisite and unsettling Husband and Wife. Na'ama and Udi Newman have many of the trappings of an idyllic shared existence. A couple since they were schoolchildren, they have grown together like vines and settled into a routine of calm domesticity, along with their young daughter, Noga. But in a scene worthy of Kafka, the quiet rhythms of their family life suddenly screech to a halt when Udi wakes up one ...
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Husband and Wife: A Novel

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A rising star of international letters, Zeruya Shalev takes us on a compelling narrative journey in the exquisite and unsettling Husband and Wife. Na'ama and Udi Newman have many of the trappings of an idyllic shared existence. A couple since they were schoolchildren, they have grown together like vines and settled into a routine of calm domesticity, along with their young daughter, Noga. But in a scene worthy of Kafka, the quiet rhythms of their family life suddenly screech to a halt when Udi wakes up one morning to find that he is unable to move his legs. The doctors quickly set about searching for a physical explanation, but it soon becomes painfully clear that his paralysis is a symptom of something far less tangible, and far more insidious than any of them had imagined. This one morning sets in motion a series of events that reveals a vicious cycle of jealousy, paranoia, resentment, and accumulated injuries that now threaten to tear the small family apart. Shaleve brilliantly captures the vulnerability and deceptive comforts of lives intertwined in this deeply disturbing portrait of a diseased marriage.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Little occurs outside the racing mind of Na'ama Newman, the intensely thoughtful narrator of this second novel by Shalev Love Life. Na'ama is a social worker who heals ailing young mothers and their children, though she is unable to turn an observant eye on the lives of her own husband and child, or herself. When her husband, Udi, a healthy hiking guide who periodically leaves the family for long, solitary jaunts into nature, wakes up one morning unable to move his legs, Na'ama begins an inner monologue, wrestling over whether to take him to the hospital, where she will surely have to share him and the blame for whatever ails him with nurses, doctors and the rest of the world, or whether to keep him at home, where she and their nine-year-old daughter Noga can finally have a constant relationship with him. As Udi lies in bed, Na'ama's thoughts crash against each other: she recalls a brief though damaging affair, the perfection of her and Udi's adolescent love, and the ways Noga has borne the brunt of their sour marriage. When Na'ama learns Udi is suffering from conversive paralysis, a sickness in which mental stress is expressed physically, she is wildly jealous of the illness, saying, "so that's what she's called, his new woman, conversion." Shalev, an Israeli literary editor, has created a novel entirely devoid of standard dialogue, choosing instead to convey snatches of conversation, arguments and whispers of love in stream-of-consciousness prose. Her language is hauntingly, painfully lyrical, and her understanding of the conflicted human yearning for connection and solitude astounds. Aug. Forecast: Love Life, Shalev's first novel, has been published in 11 languages and was a number one bestseller in Israel. With this beautifully written and packaged second effort, Shalev may gain a wider readership in the U.S. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Friends since childhood, Na'ama and Udi Newman married young and start having marital problems in midlife. Setting the downward spiral in motion is Na'ama, who meets a young artist at the local caf and agrees to sit for a portrait. This turns into posing nude for him, and there is a hint of sexual dalliance. These issues come to a head when Udi wakes up one morning and can no longer feel his legs. After a thorough examination in the emergency room, doctors conclude that there is nothing medically wrong with him. Na'ama then learns about a young woman, Zohara, who practices Tibetan healing rituals, and contacts her to try to help her husband. In addition to these problems, Na'ama's ten-year-old daughter, Noga, struggles to fit in at school. Adding to this maelstrom, Na'ama has become emotionally involved with one of her charges at the hostel for unwed pregnant girls where she works. Written in a first-person, stream-of-consciousness style, this novel attempts to show what happens to a family when a 20-year relationship falls apart. Noted for her debut novel, Love Life, Israeli native Shalev plays confidently with the themes of jealousy, accumulated grievances, and resentments but, unfortunately, cannot infuse her characters with life. Only for larger collections with an interest in contemporary Hebrew fiction. Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Israeli poet and novelist Shalev (Love Life, 2000) returns with a highly polished and deeply metaphoric account of a troubled marriage. Somewhat in the tradition of Gregor Samsa, protagonist Udi wakes up in Jerusalem one morning to find that he has a big problem-he can't move. Udi's wife Naama and his daughter Noga try to rouse him, but he remains paralyzed. At the hospital, however, all of Udi's doctors and all of the doctors' tests agree: There is nothing wrong with him. So they send him to the psychiatrists, who find themselves equally at a loss. Naama takes Udi home and discovers that he's capable of arousal, so (like Lot's daughter) she gets him drunk on wine and makes love to him in his sleep. This highlights what turns out to be a very significant aspect of Udi's problem: He had become bored with the routines of his marriage and family life. The story, as narrated by Naama, becomes a kind of Proustian recollection of the marriage, which reached its high point in the happy months following Noga's birth but has declined steadily in the ten years since. Can those early days be recaptured? Naama, as valiant a wife as any in the Book of Proverbs, tries, taking Udi on vacation and bearing his bad temper with astonishing fortitude-but whatever it is that ails him, it goes very deep. A clue is offered by Zohara, an acupuncturist who tells Naama that she and Udi have been blessed, not cursed, with this malady, and that they should not be in a rush to see him recover. New Age drivel? Or simply a new way of looking at old problems? Maybe Milton knew what he was talking about when he spoke of the "happy fall" from Eden. Probably too ornate for some, but a beautifully written story that carriesgreat weights of meaning.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555847852
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • File size: 402 KB

Meet the Author

Zeruya Shalev has a master's degree in biblical studies and is chief literary editor at an Israeli publishing house. Shalev's previous novel, Love Life, was awarded the Golden Book Prize and the Ashman Prize and has been translated into seventeen languages.
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Read an Excerpt

Husband and Wife

By Zeruya Shalev

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2002

Zeruya Shalev
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-4009-2

Chapter One

In the first minute of the day, even before I knew whether it was
hot or cold, good or bad, I saw the desert plain of the Arava,
flat and desolate, growing pale, bushes of dust, melancholy as
abandoned tents. I hadn't been there lately, but he had, he only
returned from there last night, and now he opens a narrow,
sandy eye and says, even in a sleeping bag in the Arava I slept
better than here with you.

A smell of old shoes escapes from his mouth, and I turn my
face to the other side, to the flat face of the alarm clock that
chooses this precise minute to start ringing, and he grumbles,
how many times have I told you to put the alarm clock in
Noga's room, and I sit up abruptly, sunspots dancing in front of
my eyes, what are you talking about, Udi, she's still a child,
we're supposed to wake her up, not her us. How come you
always know the way things are supposed to be, he retorts
angrily, when will you understand that there's no such thing, and
then we hear her voice approaching hesitantly, skipping over the
notebooks thrown onto the floor, stumbling on the stacks of
closed books, trying its luck, Daddy?

He leans over me, savagely silences the alarm clock, and I
whisper to his shoulder, she's calling you, Udi, go to her, she
hasn't seen you for nearly a week. You can't even sleep like a
human being in this house, he rubs his eyes resentfully, a child
of ten who's treated like a baby, it's a good thing you don't
keep her in diapers, and here she is, her face peeking into the
room, her neck stretched sideways, her body still hidden behind
the wall. I have no idea how much she's heard, her hungry eyes
swallow the movements of our lips without taking anything in,
and now they turn to him, hurt in advance, Daddy, we missed
you, and he sends her a crumpled smile, really? And she says,
of course, nearly a week.

What do you need me for at all, he tightens his lips, you'd both
be better off without me, and she recoils, her eyes shrink, and I
get out of bed, sweetheart, he's just joking, go and get dressed.
With angry fingers I pull the strap of the blind, opposite the
bright light suddenly turning the room yellow, as if a powerful
heavenly spotlight is being directed at us, surveying our actions.
Na'ama, I'm dying of thirst, he says, bring me a glass of water,
and I complain, I haven't got time to take care of you too now,
Noga's going to be late and so am I, and he tries to sit up, I see
him making tired rowing movements in the bed, his tanned arms
trembling, his face reddening with effort and insult as he
whispers, Na'ama, I can't get up.

She hears this immediately, again she's next to the bed, the
hairbrush in her hand, holding out her other hand to him, come,
Daddy, I'll help you, trying to pull him toward her, her back
bent and her lips pursed, her sensitive nostrils flaring, until she
collapses on top of him, flushed, helpless, Mommy, he really
can't get up. What are you talking about, I say in alarm, does
something hurt you, Udi? And he mutters, nothing hurts, but I
can't feel my legs, I can't move them, and his voice dissolves
into a puppyish whimper, I can't move.

I pull down the blanket, his long legs are lying motionless on the
bed, covered with down, under which his muscles are frozen,
stretched out side by side like the strings of a musical
instrument. I always envied these legs that never tired, guiding
hikers in the Arava and the Judean desert and the lower Galilee
and the upper Galilee, while I stayed at home, because walking
any distance is difficult for me. You're just making excuses, he
would complain, the haversack grinning on his back like a happy
baby, you just feel like being alone in the house without me,
while I would stand there in embarrassment, pointing
sorrowfully at my flat, always painful feet, separating us from
each other.

Where don't you feel, I ask, my fingers trembling on his thigh,
pinching the tough flesh, do you feel that? And Noga, going too
far as usual, slides her hairbrush to and fro, digging red paths on
his legs, do you feel that, Daddy?

Stop it, leave me alone, he explodes, the pair of you can drive a
person crazy with your nagging! And she sticks the bristles of
the brush into her palm, we only wanted to see if you could feel,
and now he's sorry, I feel something dull, but I can't move, as if
my legs have gone to sleep and I can't wake them up. With his
eyes closed he gropes for the blanket, and I spread it over his
body with slow movements, flapping it opposite his face, like
my mother used to do when I was sick, cooling my forehead
with the gusts of her love. His thin hair rises and lands back on
his head, together with the blanket, but he moans beneath it as at
a blow, what is this blanket, it's so heavy, and I say, Udi, it's
your usual blanket, and he groans, it's suffocating me, I can't

Mommy, it's half past seven already, Noga whines at me from
the kitchen, and I haven't had anything to eat yet, and I lose my
temper, what do you want from me, take something yourself,
you're not a baby, and immediately I'm filled with remorse and I
run to her, spilling cornflakes into a bowl and taking the milk out
of the fridge, but she stands up with an insulted pout, I'm not
hungry, hoists her book bag onto her shoulders and advances to
the door, and I stare at her back, something strange peeps at me
through the straps, bright childish pictures, teddy bears and
rabbits bouncing gaily as she goes down the stairs, Noga,
you're still in your pajamas, I suddenly realize, you forgot to get

She climbs the stairs with her eyes downcast, almost closed,
and I hear the bag slamming onto the floor, and the bedsprings
creaking, and I hurry to her room and find her sprawled on the
bed covered with teddy bears and bunny rabbits, what are you
doing, I scold her, it's already a quarter to eight, and she sobs, I
don't want to go to school, I don't feel well. Her eyes trap me
in an accusing look, watching my heart hardening toward her,
contracting like a stone, as a fist of revulsion presses me against
the wall. Aggressive crying takes hold of every curl on her head,
and I scream, why are you making things even harder for me, I
can't cope with you, and she yells back, and I can't cope with
you! She gets up ferociously and it seems to me that she is
about to open her mouth wide and devour me, but she pushes
me out and slams the door in my face.

I take a few stunned steps backward, staring at her closed,
thunderous door, and his silent door, and go on walking
backward until my back encounters the front door, and I open it
and go out and sit down on the cold steps in my nightgown, and
look at the beautiful day, wrapped in a golden light, with a gentle
breeze shaking tender little leaves and gathering up bright
remains of flowers in its train, and honeyed clouds caressing
each other yearningly. I have always hated days like this, walking
through them like an uninvited guest, on a day like this sadness
sticks out more than ever, there is nowhere for it to hide in the
great glory, like a frightened rabbit caught in a sudden light on
the road it scurries this way and that, slamming again and again
into the shining wheels of happiness.

Behind me the door opens, heavy sneakers descend the steps
and above them Noga, dressed and combed, and I raise my face
to her in surprise, suddenly she seems so mature, bending down
and kissing me on the forehead without saying a word, and I too
say nothing, watching the receding book bag with burning eyes.
A huge, overripe navel orange suddenly drops onto the
pavement below, almost hitting her head, and lies squashed in an
orange puddle. Who gave it the last push, surely not this barely
perceptible late spring breeze, soon children will step into the
puddle and their footprints will rot on the pavement until they
come home in the afternoon, and Noga too will come home,
tired, her pale curls drooping, one sentence on her tongue, a
sentence that will begin on the stairs, and I will hear only its end,
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.

I get up heavily, it seems to me that the day is already over, I am
so tired, but there are still too many hours separating me from
the night. On tiptoe I return to the bedroom, stand silently next
to the bed, inspecting the beautiful body lying on it in perfect
openness, a body that has nothing to hide. From our youth I
remember this body, when it was still smaller than mine, narrow
as a bud, and I would walk on the road while he walked on the
pavement so we wouldn't have to be ashamed of our common
shadow, stooping out of consideration, my eyes fixed on the
gray meeting place of the street and the curb, before my eyes
I saw him stretch and mature, until one evening he pulled me up to
the pavement next to him and put his hand on my shoulder, and
our shadow reflected a perfect picture, and I was filled with
pride, as if I had succeeded, with stubbornness and faith, in
prevailing over the facts of life. With a sinking heart I inspect
him, looking for a movement in his limbs, the light blanket lying
rejected at his feet, above him the reading lamp bowing its head
innocently, as if we didn't quarrel over it night after night. Put
the light out already, I would say, I can't sleep with it on, and he
would say irritably, but I'm still reading, I can't go to sleep
without reading, and I would curse the lamp silently, wishing it a
fatal short circuit, and sometimes I would leave the room
demonstratively, hugging my blanket and pillow, falling like a
refugee onto the living room sofa, and in the morning he would
always get his complaint in before mine, you ran away from me
again, every little thing makes you run away from me.

His thin legs are still, but his mouth cracks in a sigh, the taut lips
of an aging boy lost in his wilted face, swallowed up in the
caverns of his cheeks, under the precise lines of his eyebrows
looking down sorrowfully at the face whose beauty has dulled
overnight, everything exactly the same sandy color, a uniform
yellowish gray, like livery that cannot be removed, a uniform of
sun and dust, and I try to heal him with my look, anxiety
crawling over me like a hairy caterpillar, is this the moment I
always knew I would not be able to escape, the moment that
breaks life in two, after which nothing is the same as it was
before, but like a distorting, mocking reflection, is this the
moment, is this its smell, are these its colors, the moment in
which all our previous lives would seem to me bursting with
happiness, like the orange when it fell, as opposed to this
loneliness, crippled, shamed, bedridden forever.

An imaginary hand, long and warm, reaches out to me from the
bed, a huge maternal hand, seducing me to sink down beside
him, to let him infect me with his paralysis, and I shudder, I can
feel my life being drained out of me, gently, drop by drop,
collecting in a puddle outside this room, and weightless and airy
I try to hold on to the open window, surveying the room as if I
am a spring bird which has landed up here by accident. Here is
the big wall closet, only yesterday I stood on a ladder and took
down the summer clothes and hid the winter clothes, pushing
them deep inside, as if winter would never return, and Noga
rushes urgently out of her room, always in the middle of a
sentence, when's Daddy coming home, she asks, and
immediately after that, when are we going to eat, and I say, he'll
come home tonight, when you're asleep, and you'll see him
tomorrow morning. And will he take me to school, she asks, her
nostrils vibrating, and I say, why not, always after an absence of
a few days it seems to us that only the lack of his physical
presence stands between us, and the moment he returns the void
in our home will be filled.

Here's the red rug, the rug of my childhood, with the little
threadbare hearts, and here's the bed we bought, hesitantly,
years ago, from a divorced couple, and next to it his backpack,
dusty and empty, and on the wall a picture of an old house with
a tiled roof and clouds sailing over it, and I try to find salvation
in the inanimate objects, look, nothing's missing, nothing's
changed, and therefore nothing will change in the living either. In
a minute he'll wake up and try to pull me onto the bed with his
edgy aggressiveness, I know exactly what you need, he'll inform
me, why aren't you willing to accept what I want to give, and
this time I won't begin to argue like I always do, I won't present
him, earnest as a fledgling curator, with the catalogue of my
disappointments, I'll take off my nightgown and jump into bed
as if I'm jumping into a swimming pool, all at once, without
testing the water, why not, we're husband and wife, after all, and
this is our only slice of life.


Excerpted from Husband and Wife
by Zeruya Shalev
Copyright © 2002 by Zeruya Shalev.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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