Eden: A Novel

Eden: A Novel

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Overview

From a lead writer of the original In Treatment TV series comes "an accomplished, acutely observed novel" (Publishers Weekly).

Eden is not the paradise it appears to be. It is a stifling rural Israeli community in which upscale urban escapees Alona and Mark try to salvage their relationship under the resentful scrutiny of Roni, Mark's adolescent daughter, who feels empowered by her sexual adventures with older men. The neighbors, Dafna and Eli, are in crisis, too, their marriage rent by the torment of infertility. Set against a backdrop of Middle East fears, family entanglements, disappearing countryside, and disappointed expectations, Yael Hedaya's Eden brilliantly renders the strains of unrest in what, on the surface, seems an idyllic place.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312427269
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 09/27/2011
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Yael Hedaya is the head writer for In Treatment, the acclaimed Israeli TV series adapted for HBO. The author of Housebroken and Accidents, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in 2006, Hedaya teaches creative writing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Read an Excerpt

Eden

A Novel


By Yael Hedaya, Jessica Cohen

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2005 Yael Hedaya
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4996-5



CHAPTER 1

Dafna


So what is the moment? What does it look like? What shape does it take and when does it occur, that instant which is not a moment and yet is everything? And why does it slip away from her time after time after time?

Because to talk about the moment of conception sounds trite, too small for the occasion and utterly imprecise. And to speak of the encounter between sperm and egg sounds silly, like the press releases she formulates every day (a historic meeting, a once-in-a-lifetime summit) and also untrue. The lab technicians have seen Eli's millions of sperm swimming obediently, though perhaps unenthusiastically, toward her eggs as they sit in little petri dishes like parked cars, waiting for someone to break into them, start their engines, and drive them away. The simple fact is that nothing has happened.

Even the disappointment no longer mattered very much, and not because she had grown used to it. "It's disappointing all over again, every time," the nurse said when she gave Dafna the results over the phone and heard her slow, restrained okay, more of an exhalation than an utterance, because her heart never said it was okay, not once, but her lungs mechanically filled with air to push down the sobs. The nurse had it wrong. You didn't feel disappointed all over again, every time. The disappointment settled like another story on a vast construction project with an unknown completion date, a building with scaffolding made out of hopes, now removed, and from month to month it looked more like a tower block, a concrete monster with closed-in balconies. Sometimes the nurse said, "It'll be okay, Dafna; it will work for you in the end, too," and the for you stung more than the disappointment, more than the word end; and besides, what would work? What was it that would work in the end? She no longer knew whether this thing, which was not working, would fix everything that was broken and start her life again. But she didn't care. She just wanted it to work.

She was standing in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil so she could mix the sunrise potion concocted for her by the Chinese doctor, in whom she no longer believed but did not yet doubt enough to strike him off her list of alternative practitioners whom she'd visited in recent years: the ones who said her womb was too cold and the ones who compared it to a burning-hot oven, the ones who named her spleen as the source of the trouble and the ones who blamed her kidneys, the ones who said everything was fine, just fine, and likened her ovaries to nuts or tubers and her fallopian tubes to lilies. Perhaps she felt a little sorry for the Chinese medicine guy, because there was something pathetic and dated about his office, because he had not asked her to listen or visualize or believe, instructing her only to stick out her tongue, and she had felt that she was sticking her tongue out at everyone, at the healers and the Chinese doctors and the alternative practitioners, all of them, and at Eli waiting downstairs in a café, sipping a double espresso that had no ill effect on his excellent sperm count, much like the five cigarettes he smoked every day, no doubt poring over some legal file or reprimanding an intern over his cell phone, waiting for her to finish her appointment with the guru du jour — and yet for six months she'd been drinking the potion every morning, and still: nothing.

Now she thought that she would like to implant a tiny video camera in her body, to roam the expanses, spy into corners, slide down curves, and attach itself to the sticky walls of her womb — which quite possibly were not sticky enough, and maybe that was the problem: embryos tumbled off them like mountain climbers plunging to their deaths from a slippery rock wall. A camera would catch everything, projecting the images onto a screen and she would watch: a video clip of her body. She would fast-forward and rewind it, freeze it, examine every frame, every angle, especially that one instant when it all came to a head, the moment that could not be defined, the moment that had been driving Dafna out of her mind for seven years.

Because the idea of a single moment when a pregnancy takes hold is false. There might have been dozens of pregnancies that had taken hold, maybe even hundreds. When she was young she hadn't been careful (her friends called her irresponsible, and the guys she slept with said she was playing with fire, but they still came inside her, and she had only started using contraceptives when she got married, a fact she now found ridiculously insulting), and she realized that what had seemed at the time like tempting fate was in fact prophetic intuition, and perhaps, she thought, as she poured water into the Duralex glass — chosen as her lucky glass, refusing to replace it even after it had disappointed during the last in vitro fertilization — perhaps hundreds of pregnancies had taken hold, but something (what could it be?) had made them change their minds, spurred them to press their ejection buttons and flee. These treacherous cells preferred to grow parachutes over placentas; they quarreled when they divided or disliked the lodgings they found: it was too cold or too hot; she knew all the permutations. She was all too familiar with the mechanics and the details of the hormonal environment, and she knew the statistics for women her age. Still, that moment remained mysterious and elusive and critical — a celestial instant; that was how she thought of it at first, though lately it seemed all too earthly, subterranean and dark — a moment from another world and, in some clear and wounding way, not of her world.

The mixture of ground leaves and roots and whatever else was in the glass swirled around, painting the water a nauseating yet promising greenish earth-toned hue. She looked through the window at the backyard, still obscured in darkness, and she could picture its borders lined with jasmine, hibiscus, and honeysuckle bushes — and oleander. "If we have a child we'll have to pull it up, it's poisonous," Eli had said, not long ago, and his if, which used to be when, scared her more than the thought that their child would swallow a leaf or a flower. She gazed at the lemon cypresses, black and hulking like dozing beasts, and at the lawn, which glistened with moisture in the halogen white that filtered out through the kitchen window. Daylight would soon break and turn the square of darkness into their garden: a phosphorescent green lake of lawn touching a patio tiled with flagstone, adorned with a complete set of oak garden furniture, 9,530 shekels — odd that she remembered this price, of all the fortunes they had spent on the house — and the fancy grill, and of course the rockery, Eli's pride and joy, built from pebbles, centered around a small pool lit with bluish underwater spotlights. The water made a trickle that sounded like a recording, and goldfish swam indifferently in the pool, playing their parts as ornamental fish. When the mid-October sun rose she would see the neatly pruned bushes, and when the last patches of darkness unraveled she would think what she thought every morning when she looked out: in all the world there was no uglier beauty.

Hunched over with her arms resting on the marble countertop — wearing a nightshirt that once, before a hundred washes, dozens of injections in her rear end and her stomach, several intrauterine inseminations, four IVFs, and God knows how many glasses of Chinese silt and needles, used to have a bunny print — she thought she looked old, like her mother, on whose land the house she and Eli lived in had been built (the old house was about to collapse anyway, Eli had said, when she suggested they renovate it instead of tearing it down). The plain, modest house had been destroyed with chilling simplicity, and even the contractor, who was no stranger to tearing down homes, had complimented the structure for seeming to surrender willingly, as though the bulldozer's touch was merely a tickle that sent it crumpling to the ground and rolling around with laughter, churning up clouds of dust. The contractor, a Gulliver with a frizzy red mane of hair, with whom they later fought and were embroiled in a court case, reminded Dafna of her father, a large man who had bequeathed her his physique. "The burning bush," Eli had affectionately nicknamed the contractor before he started referring to him as "that shit." The contractor had a habit of nervously chewing his lower lip, just like she remembered her father doing when he was tense or thoughtful — her father who had wanted to live in the countryside.

A few weeks after her parents left their home in Petach Tikva and moved to the moshav with their three children — eight-year-old Irit, five-year-old Dafna, and Gadi, a two-month-old baby — her father had suffered cardiac arrest and died in his sleep.

Dafna remembered waking up that Saturday morning to the sound of her mother sobbing. She was dashing around the house wearing a slip, which she had never done before and which amused Dafna and her sister, whom their mother quickly sent next door to the neighbor, the widow Sonia Baruch, along with baby Gadi and a bottle of milk. Only after breakfast, when their mother came in, her eyes red and puffy, and whispered with Sonia in the hallway, and they heard the two women sniveling, and Sonia came back into the kitchen and told them they would have to stay until evening, and outside in the yard people started to gather — only then did they realize something terrible had happened.

Eli, like her father, had also wanted to move to the country. He would pace their pent house apartment in north Tel Aviv and complain that he couldn't breathe, he was suffocating, he was spending too many hours at the office, in offices in general, in court, and he had to get out and work the land, at least on weekends. "Yes," he said, "you can laugh all you want, but I have an urge to work on the land." The person who ended up actually taking care of their half acre was Bobo from Thailand.

Dafna's father was forty-one when he announced to her mother that he had a unique opportunity to buy a two-bedroom house in Eden for a steal, and they wouldn't even have to sell the apartment in Petach Tikva. "You'll see, Leah, it will be paradise for the children." After his death, the house remained exactly as it had been when he bought it and the garden just a thought: a square of lawn that Dafna and Irit and, later, Gadi watered obediently twice a week. Every winter the lawn fell into decay, seemed finally on the verge of death, and then came to life again in the spring. That lawn, she thought, was a yellowing, angry longing for her father, who had left them with the promise of a different life and with so much work.

When her mother died, five years ago, Irit and Gadi agreed to split the profits from the sale of the apartment in Petach Tikva and give Dafna the house on the moshav, which no one imagined would become one of the most expensive areas in Israel. "We made a good deal," Eli said, although he had initially objected and claimed Dafna's siblings were cheating her. "I was wrong, big-time," he conceded, whenever she re minded him of how he had tormented her for stupidly giving up her share in the apartment for a crumbling house that, granted, was sitting on half an acre of land, but who needed half an acre in a place like that?

In the late nineties, Eden, originally a farming collective founded by Polish and Hungarian immigrants in the early nineteen fifties, emerged as one of the most desirable communities in central Israel. Young families, mostly from Tel Aviv and Petach Tikva, purchased entire farms for ridiculous prices and built houses that looked as if they had all been designed by the same architect: one-or two-story stucco buildings in pastel shades — lemon yellow, pale pink, baby blue, or pistachio green — with large Dutch-style windows in smoky colors. Their flat roofs seemed to mock the mossy red slate that capped the original old houses, which were gradually disappearing along with their owners as they died or moved to live near children in the cities and suburbs. There were a few who stayed, a handful of elderly couples, one widower, and several widows, who began to resemble their houses: the opposite of pastel, the opposite of designer. There was an odd contrast between the owners of these crumbling buildings and their land, which by the first decade of the millennium was worth millions.

When prices soared and the elderly homeowners and, more markedly, their children lost their financial innocence, the wealthy began to arrive. In the past two years a few giant estates had sprouted up alongside the old houses and their newer pastel-hued neighbors. Hidden behind high walls with electric gates that opened onto double and triple parking bays, these mansions, precisely because they were hidden, looked enviously ostentatious, quietly terrifying, and masterful, like yawning lions sprawled among herds of zebra. Now Eden comprised three distinct classes: upper, lower, and elderly. The last had its own subgroups: those who held on to their land, sometimes to the chagrin of their children; those who wanted to move and left the negotiations for their children, who sometimes demanded such high prices for the condemned house and land that their parents had to keep living in Eden, unable to attract a buyer; and the third most vulnerable group, the elderly who had no offspring to shield them from those who coveted their property. Shortly after moving to Eden, Eli told Dafna his idea for a new business venture: Why shouldn't he represent these people, in return for a modest percentage of the sales, and make sure no one screwed them over? She said she hoped he was joking, and he said, "Not really, but I gather you don't like the idea."

"It stinks," she said, "taking advantage of these people."

Insulted, Eli asked why she called it taking advantage when all he would be doing was mediating, even offering protection. After all, if he weren't taking care of them, the buyers would just trample all over them. "You could say I'll be the son they never had. A child gets something from his parents, doesn't he? Didn't you inherit this house?" He reminded her that he himself had inherited nothing: his father's apartment in Jerusalem's Nachlaot neighborhood had been rent-controlled, and when he died it reverted to the owner. Everything he had ever owned had been bought with hard work and sweat. She asked how much exactly he was thinking of taking, assuming anyone would be foolish enough to use his services, and he said, "One or two percent, just like an agent. And don't play innocent, Dafna, real estate lawyers take hefty sums just for sitting in their offices drawing up contracts." Besides, he said, he was getting sick of being a criminal lawyer. Not that it wasn't profitable, but sometimes he envied his colleagues who made a fortune without ever leaving their desks, while he worked his ass off. "So what do you care if I sniff around a bit to see if there's any demand for this kind of service? What do you say?"

She said no. She thought about people like Sonia Baruch, who, if she had still been alive, living alone, would have been one of Eli's victims. Her home had stood abandoned for several years after she died childless, and on Saturdays families would drive by, stop their cars, and peer through the fence at the house, which hid defensively behind tall weeds and thistles. The site became a destination for all sorts of potential buyers who had heard about the abandoned property that stood on well over an acre of land. It was a good thing she and Eli hadn't lived in Eden at the time, so she hadn't seen the silent fight over the house with her own eyes, the cars circling like sharks dizzied by the scent of injured, isolated real estate. The house was eventually turned over to the Public Trustee, which office quickly sold it to a couple from Ra'anana named Shuki and Iris. They later boasted of having made the deal of a lifetime by buying the land in 1998 for less than a million shekels. Today, it was worth that several times over.

It disgusted her. To think that the place where she grew up, whose secret beauty, she believed, was in the rich, rebellious wildness of the flora that grew undisturbed between the houses, separating but also connecting them with a greenish glue, this place where she had spent an admittedly lousy childhood but which was still hers, had turned into a real estate amusement park. As though along with the land and the houses, what had also been traded in was a childhood spent hiding among bushes and tall, wild weeds, roaming orchards and fruit groves — those faraway days of small loneliness and big plans.

Every place that had once stood for something had been ruined, which only made it all the more symbolic and nostalgic. When she moved back with Eli in the summer of 2000, almost nothing of the old Eden was recognizable except the grocery store, although only the old-timers still shopped there. It stood on a paved square in the middle of the moshav, with heaps of cardboard boxes and plastic crates full of bottles near the entrance, and a pay phone that looked like a museum exhibit, because who ever used it other than the Thai workers?


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Eden by Yael Hedaya, Jessica Cohen. Copyright © 2005 Yael Hedaya. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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.

Table of Contents

Contents

Part One,
Dafna,
Reuven,
Mark,
Alona,
Eli,
Part Two,
Roni,
Alona,
Eli,
Nechama,
Dafna,
Part Three,
Mark,
Roni,
Alona,
Eli,
Reuven,
Part Four,
Mark,
Roni,
Nechama,
Alona,
Dafna,
Part Five,
Jane,
About the Author,

Reading Group Guide

About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Eden are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Eden.

About the Book
Eden is not the paradise it appears to be. It is a stifling rural Israeli community in which upscale urban escapees Alona and Mark try to salvage their relationship under the resentful scrutiny of Roni, Mark's adolescent daughter, who feels empowered by her sexual adventures with older men. The neighbors, Dafna and Eli, are in crisis, too, their marriage rent by the torment of infertility. Set against a backdrop of Middle East fears, family entanglements, disappearing countryside, and disappointed expectations, Yael Hedaya's Eden brilliantly renders the strains of unrest in what, on the surface, seems an idyllic place.

About the Author
Yael Hedaya is the head writer for In Treatment, the acclaimed Israeli TV series adapted for HBO. The author of Housebroken and Accidents, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in 2006, Hedaya teaches creative writing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


Discussion Questions

1. What does the moshav Eden represent in the novel, in comparison with the other major locales of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

2. Dafna struggles with three major disappointments: her fertility, her job, and her husband. Which of them ultimately bears the most influence on her happiness, and does it change throughout the course of the novel?

3. What makes young Ido so interested in the concept of Fear? Is he depressed, as Alona believes, or is his interest a sign of intellectual growth, as Mark believes?

4. Reuven's constant annoyance with the behavior of Alona's children becomes tragically ironic in the wake of Reuven's realization about his own son. How much of children's behavior can be reasonably blamed on the parents?

5. The major disturbances in Eden – the burglary at Alona's house, the molestation of the young boy, the mysterious dog deaths – bring out many feelings of racial/cultural prejudice among moshav residents. How are even the "left-wing" characters influenced by old beliefs and stereotypes? What does Mark learn from Ali when he comes to the house to help with the dogs?

6. Roni clearly turns to new love affairs because of her devastating heartbreak over Uri. What attracts her so strongly to a romance like the one in Last Tango in Paris? What frustrates her most about her parents' and Alona's treatment of her?

7. Uri is a pure example of artistic self-dramatization and narcissism – which causes a great deal of grief for Alona and Roni. Is such narcissism and acting simply a side effect of living a comfortable, modern life? How does Mark, a patient restaurateur, counterbalance that attitude?

8. Why does Nechama find it difficult to accept help, especially from Alona? Who is actually "blinder" to reality: Nechama or Alona? Why does Nechama have such a difficult time babysitting her grandchildren while Alona is at the hospital with Roni?

9. Mark tells Alona that her many "bachelorette years" made it impossible for her to accept living with a partner. Do you agree with his assessment? Consider the author's choice of naming her character "Alona."

10. Are Mark and Alona good parents who are struggling? Bad parents with good intentions? What about Jane?

11. Eli frequently displays old-fashioned beliefs and values. How does he justify his relationship with Roni, especially given his acquaintance of Mark and the child molestation in the neighborhood? What did you make of his reaction when Roni ends the affair?

12. Why is Roni's birth story layered with the account of her awakening in the hospital? Do you think she will get a second chance and have an opportunity to be a child again? Do you think her parents will change their behavior – or is it too late, as Roni tells Mark?

13. What is significant about the diversity of patients in Roni's hospital room?

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