The Name


The Name is the story of Amalia, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, named for her father's first wife, a concert pianist who perished in a Nazi death camp and whose sanctified memory haunts Amalia's youth. In a decisive, rebellious break from the culture of remembrance in which she was raised, Amalia grows into a wild, defiant young woman who attempts, unsuccessfully, to remake her life, to change her identity, to redefine herself as a woman stripped of history. Unable to escape her cultural legacy and plagued ...
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New York 1998 Hard cover FIRST PRINTING New in new dust jacket. Dust Jacket is protected in Mylar cover, may show some rub wear. 375 p. Orders are processed 7 days a week. We ... value your satisfaction and our feedback! Thanks. == 145 == Read more Show Less

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The Name is the story of Amalia, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, named for her father's first wife, a concert pianist who perished in a Nazi death camp and whose sanctified memory haunts Amalia's youth. In a decisive, rebellious break from the culture of remembrance in which she was raised, Amalia grows into a wild, defiant young woman who attempts, unsuccessfully, to remake her life, to change her identity, to redefine herself as a woman stripped of history. Unable to escape her cultural legacy and plagued by troubling questions of faith, Amalia seeks refuge in an ultra-Orthodox women's seminary in Jerusalem and assumes yet another persona, that of the ba'alat tshuva - the penitent. Before long she is drawn to a charismatic rabbi who preaches a fiery heterodoxy. Under his sway, Amalia moves into an isolated apartment on the fringe of Jerusalem and devotes herself to rituals of purification and redemption that are to culminate in a horrific, ultimate act of atonement.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The legacy of the Holocaust exacts another victim in this debut novel, which charts a woman's religious frenzy and descent into madness. The narrator, who variously refers to herself in the first and third person, has a fractured personality reflected by the names she has been known by and the metamorphoses she has deliberately pursued. Named Amelia by her father in memory of his first wife, Malinka, who died heroically in a concentration camp, the protagonist becomes emotionally unhinged in childhood because she feels possessed by Malinka's spirit. Attempting to rid herself of both the incubus of her namesake and what she sees as her own impure body, she changes her name several times, becomes Emily, then Amy, and flees from America to Europe to Jerusalem. Embracing ultra-Orthodox Judaism, she weaves ritual prayer shawls, hoping to earn redemption for the sin of living when talented musician Malinka died, and for promiscuously sharing her own body with men. Self-loathing Amelia starves herself, can't sleep, hears voices and sees visions, meanwhile pouring out her thoughts over the 49 days of the Omer Counting, a period of ritual mourning. Israeli writer Govrin conveys her tormented heroine's increasing dementia in a lush, lyrical monotone that mixes Amelia's frenzied prayers with biblical passages and Kabbalic lore. Amelia's betrothal to another yeshiva student, her deliberate sacrifice of the happiness that marriage with him could bring (instead, she will become the bride of God) and her encounters with various mystical rabbis are described in passages of suffocatingly sonorous prose. Though Govrin won Israel's 1997 Kugel Literary Prize and the 1998 Israeli Prime Minister's Prize for Writers, most readers may find it difficult to sustain interest in this essentially static and claustrophobic narrative in which the tragic end is foreordained and the narrow path there marked with a few revelations but no surprises. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In this wrenching, painfully detailed work, Amalia is the daughter of Holocaust survivors, named for the beautiful pianist who was her father's first wife and who perished in the camps. The burdens of her family's past weigh heavily on Amalia--as a child, she can't even play the xylophone without angering her father, who evidently draws invidious comparisons with the playing of his lost wife--and she flees into a secular, hedonistic lifestyle. But in her hunt for spiritual renewal, she is drawn back to Orthodox Judaism, living in a tiny room in Jerusalem and trying to find herself worthy of weaving a prayer shawl. This debut by poet and theater director Govrin, who lives in Paris and Princeton, NJ, as well as Jerusalem, is the story of Amalia's long path to redemption. It's beautifully written but also slow-moving and ponderous and would work best for readers interested Jewish history or tales of spiritual rebirth. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/98.]--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Library Journal
When poet/theater director Govrin's book was first published in Israel, it brought her a top literary award and comparisons to Dostoevsky, Gide, and Beckett. Some company. Her protagonist is a secular young woman in Jerusalem who is drawn to an ultra-Orthodox community.
Kirkus Reviews
First novel by an admired Israeli poet and theater director. Published to acclaim in 1996 in the author's native Israel, this is a troubling and troubled story of the ebbing and flowing of faith in a hostile modern world. Amalia Orbach, the protagonist and narrator, is a gifted young photographer who has abandoned her art to live in Jerusalem as an Orthodox Jew. She is haunted by the memory of her father's first wife, a victim of the Holocaust whose name she bears and whose ghostly presence she senses. She is equally tormented by her memories of her parents, both Holocaust survivors, now dead, with whom she never felt at ease and was never finally reconciled. To add to her confusion and despair, Amaliaþs now being sought out by a man from the family's past who commissioned her to create a memorial to her namesake. Her ongoing crisis of faith, exacerbated by the tug of three very different rabbis and a religiously observant fianc‚, takes place over the 49 days of the Counting of the Omer, a period of semi-mourning that links Passover to Shavuoth (Pentecost). Govrin interweaves past and present in a shifting voice that moves with daunting ease between first and third person. Her prose also cunningly mingles biblical and liturgical reference and echoes (a major achievement in Harshav's outstanding translation). But regardless of the authorþs technical assurance, her debut work is often confusing. Ultimately, its intricacies are strangely unmoving. So, despite the intensity of emotional conflicts evoked, a disturbingly detached performance by a writer of no small talent.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573220729
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/12/1998
  • Pages: 375
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Reading Group Guide


The recipient of two of Israel's most prestigious literary awards, The Name tells the story of Amalia, a daughter of Holocaust survivors who seeks desperately to remake her life and escape her history. Named for her father's first wife—a concert pianist who perished in a death camp—Amalia finally seeks refuge in an ultra-Orthodox seminary where she encounters a fierce, charismatic rabbi who preaches a fiery Kabbalistic Judaism, and embraces a life of passionate penitence. It is the starting point of a strange and hypnotic journey that takes the reader from the earthy and erotic to the spiritual and sublime—marking a powerful, disturbing, and unforgettable debut.


Michal Govrin is a writer, poet, and theater director. She received her Ph.D. at the University of Paris and currently teaches at the School of Visual Theater in Jerusalem. She divides her time between Jerusalem, Paris, and Princeton, New Jersey.


  1. Do you think it's true that our names always influence our fate in some way? Are we, in reality, burdened with whatever freight the name carries for our parents?
  2. How does Amalia's name seem to play a role in her fate? Discuss the different aspects of this.
  3. Discuss the similarities between erotic passion and mystical passion. To what extent do you think these are similar feelings, directed at different loves?
  4. Isn't religious passion often a sublimated form of erotic passion? Or is that a statement of secular bias? Isn't it possible that we are all born with a natural yearning for God that finds replacement or dilution in earthly passion? Discuss these intertwined roles in Amalia's case.
  5. To what extent are the themes of The Name, while Jewish, accessible to readers of other faiths? Are they more accessible to religions with a mystical core?
  6. Discuss the emotional and psychological legacy of the Holocaust for the children of survivors. Talk about your experiences of this or those of people you know. Is there an event in the non-Jewish world that has had a similar collective impact?
  7. How does Amalia's father's survival shape Amalia's world? For better? For worse?
  8. Discuss Amalia's search for atonement. Why does she feel the need for atonement? What are the symbolic implications of weaving the prayer shawls? Discuss the role and meaning of other rituals of redemption, tikkun, or repair.
  9. Talk about Jerusalem: in what way does the city itself become a character in this book? In what way does the city's complex personality mirror Amalia's own?
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