Second Person Singular

( 3 )

Overview


"Part comedy of manners, part psychological mystery . . . Issues of nationalism, religion, and passing collide with quickly changing social and sexual mores." —Boston Globe

From one of the most important contemporary voices to emerge from the Middle East comes a gripping tale of love and betrayal, honesty and artifice, which asks whether it is possible to truly reinvent ourselves, to shed our old skin and start anew.

Second Person Singular ...

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Second Person Singular

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Overview


"Part comedy of manners, part psychological mystery . . . Issues of nationalism, religion, and passing collide with quickly changing social and sexual mores." —Boston Globe

From one of the most important contemporary voices to emerge from the Middle East comes a gripping tale of love and betrayal, honesty and artifice, which asks whether it is possible to truly reinvent ourselves, to shed our old skin and start anew.

Second Person Singular follows two men, a successful Arab criminal attorney and a social worker-turned-artist, whose lives intersect under the most curious of circumstances. The lawyer has a thriving practice in the Jewish part of Jerusalem, a large house, a Mercedes, speaks both Arabic and Hebrew, and is in love with his wife and two young children. In an effort to uphold his image as a sophisticated Israeli Arab, he often makes weekly visits to a local bookstore to pick up popular novels. On one fateful evening, he decides to buy a used copy of Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata, a book his wife once recommended. To his surprise, inside he finds a small white note, a love letter, in Arabic, in her handwriting. I waited for you, but you didn't come. I hope everything's all right. I wanted to thank you for last night. It was wonderful. Call me tomorrow? Consumed with suspicion and jealousy, the lawyer slips into a blind rage over the presumed betrayal. He first considers murder, revenge, then divorce, but when the initial sting of humiliation and hurt dissipates, he decides to hunt for the book's previous owner—a man named Yonatan, a man who is not easy to track down, whose identity is more complex than imagined, and whose life is more closely aligned with his own than expected. In the process of dredging up old ghosts and secrets, the lawyer tears the string that holds all of their lives together.

A Palestinian who writes in Hebrew, Sayed Kashua defies classification and breaks through cultural barriers. He communicates, with enormous emotional power and a keen sense of the absurd, the particular alienation and the psychic costs of people struggling to straddle two worlds. Second Person Singular is a deliciously complex psychological mystery and a searing dissection of the individuals that comprise a divided society.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“The lawyer” is a well-off Israeli Arab who becomes obsessed with the thought that his wife is having an affair. His violent reaction is disturbing, but apparently necessary to set in motion the chain of events that link him with the man he suspects is his wife’s lover. At its best, this novel illuminates just how fluid identity can be, even—or especially—amid the Arab-Israeli tension of Jerusalem. While the actual constructs of the plot can veer into the implausible, as when a paralyzed Jewish boy’s mother allows his Palestinian caretaker to steal her son’s identity, the deception sparks a compelling two-sided narrative: the young Palestinian man, pretending to be Jewish, enrolls in school and overhears Arabs’ conversations but never lets on that he understands. Unfortunately, the writing, often redundant and sluggish, could have used a shrewd editor. Kashua, a columnist for Haaretz, has sharp insights on the assumptions made about race, religion, ethnicity, and class that shape Israeli identity. Ideally, next time he will trade a cumbersome plot for characters that bring his wisdom to light. Agent: Deborah Harris, the Deborah Harris Agency. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Arab-Israeli novelist, essayist, and sitcom writer Kashua compares himself to Jerry Seinfeld, but there is little to laugh about in this frankly ironic tale of two men whose lives intersect briefly. Each fled a circumscribed village existence for Jerusalem where, as Arab minorities, they struggle with the sense of isolation inherent in a cultural and linguistic divide. One, who remains unnamed, has fashioned a successful life as a lawyer and is married with two children. The other, Amir, is a social worker who finds little equanimity until he takes the nightshift caring for Yonatan, a Jewish man about his own age with a brain injury. In a used bookstore, the lawyer finds a love note, apparently in his wife's hand, inside a copy of a Tolstoy novel that once belonged to Yonatan and is compelled by corrosive jealousy to seek the man whom Amir clothes, bathes, and feeds every night. Meanwhile, Amir suffers his own soul-killing envy of the privileges his charge has squandered. VERDICT Winner of the 2011 Bernstein Prize for literature, Kashua's parable deftly examines universal themes of isolation vs. assimilation. A worthy contribution to the increasingly popular works coming out of the Middle East.—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib., Ft. Myers, FL
Kirkus Reviews
Two Arab-Israelis struggle with their insecurities in this unconvincing third novel from the Arab-Israeli writer. He's sitting pretty, this Arab from the villages of northern Israel; at only 32, he's one of the top criminal-defense lawyers in Jerusalem, and an expert navigator through the thicket of Arab-Jewish relations. The unnamed lawyer also has a good marriage to Leila, a social worker; it may lack passion, but Leila makes sure the household, which includes two small children, runs like clockwork. The lawyer's calm, measured tone changes dramatically when a note falls from the used book, a Tolstoy novella, he's about to read. It's in his wife's handwriting and could be construed as erotic. The calculating lawyer turns into a raging monster of sexual jealousy. Has Tolstoy's wife-killer leapt from the page to possess him? Or is his naïveté about matters of the heart taking its toll? (The lawyer has no experience with other women.) Disappointingly, these questions go unanswered, and their urgency ebbs as Kashua introduces another character, Amir, the protagonist of alternating sections. It's an awkward structure, made more so by a six-year time difference. Back then Amir, also an immigrant to Jerusalem from an Arab village, was a newly minted social worker, a socially inept kid who went on a not-quite-date with his co-worker Leila, who afterwards wrote that altogether innocent note. So there's the slender plot connection. Amir has a second job as a caregiver for Yonatan, a young Jewish man in a vegetative state. Gradually Amir assumes Yonatan's identity. He's alienated from his mother but finds a willing surrogate in Yonatan's mother; together, they pull the plug on the Jew and Amir buries him in an Arab cemetery. Creepy, for sure, yet the sequence resolves nothing. By now the time periods are in sync. The lawyer has tracked down Amir, who tells him everything, and the lawyer's marriage returns to normal; much ado about nothing, then. Kashua fails to illuminate his characters' troubled souls.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802121202
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 258,987
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Sayed Kashua was born in 1975 and is the author of the novels Dancing Arabs and Let It Be Morning, which was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Kashua writes a weekly column for Haaretz and is a writer and the creator of Arab Labor, one of Israel's most popular sitcoms. He lives in Jerusalem with his family.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2014

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    An easy read but a confusing storyline

    I finished the book, but I found it its essence to be unimpressionable. The main character was obsessed with his supposed wife's indiscretion. I'm really not too certain the point of the plot.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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