One of Israel’s most celebrated novelists—the acclaimed author of A Pigeon and a Boy—gives us a story of village love and vengeance in the early days of British Palestine that is still being played out two generations later.
“In the year 1930 three farmers committed suicide here . . . but contrary to the chronicles of our committee and the conclusions of the British policeman, the people of the moshava knew that only two of the suicides had actually taken their own lives, whereas the third suicide had been murdered.” This is the contention of Ruta Tavori, a high school teacher and independent thinker in this small farming community who is writing seventy years later about that murder, about two charismatic men she loves and is trying to forgive—her grandfather and her husband—and about her son, whom she mourns and misses.
In a story rich with the grit, humor, and near-magical evocation of Israeli rural life for which Meir Shalev is beloved by readers, Ruta weaves a tale of friendship between men, and of love and betrayal, which carries us from British Palestine to present-day Israel, where forgiveness, atonement, and understanding can finally happen.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
STUART SCHOFFMAN worked as a journalist at Time and as a screenwriter in Hollywood before moving to Israel in 1988. He has written about Jewish and Israeli culture and politics for many publications, including The Jerusalem Report and the Jewish Review of Books. His translations from Hebrew include Beginnings by Meir Shalev, Lion's Honey by David Grossman, and three novels by A.B. Yehoshua: Friendly Fire, The Retrospective, and The Extra.
Read an Excerpt
The Telephone Call
The cell phone rang. The tall, beefy guy peered at the screen and said to the woman across the table: “Gotta take this. Be right back.”
He went outside, trying to suck in his potbelly. He wasn’t accustomed to it, and it kept surprising him: images in the mirror, pressure on his belt, the reaction of his partner as he moved atop her body.
The familiar voice replied, “I counted nine rings. You made me wait.”
“Sorry. I was in a restaurant and came outside.”
“We have a problem.”
“I hear you.”
“I will explain it to you intelligently and carefully, and you will attempt to respond the same way.”
“You remember the nature walk we took?”
“What did I just say? Intelligently and carefully. No times, no dates, no hours.”
“It was a nice walk.”
“You didn’t hear what I said? It was a nice walk.”
“I heard you.”
“You didn’t respond.”
“You wanted intelligent and careful. Whaddya want?”
“What kind of language is that? Say: ‘What sort of response?’ ”
“ ‘Okay’ is not enough. Say what I said.”
The young man contracted his belly and released it at once. “What sort of response?”
“You could have said whether you agree or disagree with what I said.”
“About our nature walk.”
“I agree. It was a very nice nature walk.”
“You should have answered immediately. Twice you made me wait. First the ringing and now the response.”
“Don’t you ever make me wait.”
“Do you remember where we relaxed at the end of the walk?”
“Sure do. In the wadi under the big carob tree.”
“What did I say? Intelligently and carefully. No times, no places, no names.”
“I didn’t say names.”
“You said ‘carob,’ no?”
The young man gently made a fist with his right hand and studied it. It was wrapped in a white bandage, and only his fingertips protruded. His eyes, small and close together, shut for a moment and opened, as from pain that recurs when its origin is recalled.
I visualize him in my mind. He stands outside the restaurant, considers his boots, lifts his left leg a little, rubs the shiny square boot tip on the right leg of his pants.
And I hear his interlocutor continue: “If you had only said ‘carob’—-that’s one thing. Only ‘big’—-not so terrible. But ‘the big carob,’ noun and adjective and the definite article—-this is serving it up on a plate. Bon appétit, please eat. Not just any tree: a carob. Not just any carob, a big carob. And just not any big carob: the big carob in the wadi. This is a wording that limits the possibilities. This is why language was invented, so things will be clear. But for us, clear is very bad. Do you understand?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Enough apologizing. Just pay attention.”
“Good. Now the point. The point is we forgot something there.”
“The gas gizmo you made us tea on?”
“The sugar spoon?”
“Would we be having a conversation like this about a spoon? Think back and remember. For once use your brain properly. Even a small brain can achieve results if operated correctly. And when you do remember what it is, don’t say it. Just say: ‘I know what you are talking about.’ ”
“Again you’re making me wait.”
“I remember. I know what you are talking about.”
“So go there, look for it, find it, and bring it to me.”
“If someone else finds it before us, it will be very bad.”
“I’m outta here in half a minute. Go looking with the flashlight.”
“A lost cause. That’s what you are. A lost cause. ‘I will go and look.’ Say it: ‘I will go and look.’ I want for once to hear you speak properly.”
“I will go and look.”
“And don’t make me mad anymore.”
“And don’t go there now with a flashlight. It’s dark now. Someone could see the light from far away. Go very early tomorrow.”
“First thing in the morning.”
“At dawn. And don’t park in the usual place. Find another spot, continue on foot, get there at first light, and start looking.”
“How’s your hand?”
“You put on a bandage?”
“Why would I?”
“So you shouldn’t get rabies.”
“And let out your belly already. I can feel it without even seeing you. Go on, send your girlfriend home and go to sleep. You have to get up early tomorrow. She doesn’t need to know what time you leave.”
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics, and other material that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Two She-Bears, the new novel by the internationally acclaimed Israeli author Meir Shalev, which explores the repercussions of guilt and fate on generations of a Palestinian community.
1. What is the role of storytelling in the novel, both oral and written? Who are the major storytellers and what’s distinct about each of their perspectives?
2. What aspects of village life and Jewish customs are passed down through to the present-day setting of the novel? Do they continue to carry the same meaning, symbolically and literally, in the characters’ lives?
3. Gender is a major determiner of characters’ education and general status in the village. How do the women in particular overcome many of the limits that are placed on them by their husbands, fathers, and other men? Does their ability to do so change between generations and over time? Consider the notion that a woman getting married is compared to “sealing a deed of ownership” (p. 197).
4. Compare the different kinds of bonding that men and women engage in, in particular, the “guy hikes,” when Ze’ev washes Eitan, and the network of veterans even after the men’s service is over. Which feels deeper and more authentic to you—the relationships of the men or of the women?
5. What’s the implied danger—and benefit—to women like Ruta writing their own stories? How does this manifest itself in Ruta’s long discussions with Varda and the ostensible value of Varda’s research about the pre-State Yishuv?
6. What is Ruta’s most important story to tell? How does she gradually reveal information about what happened to Neta?
7. To what degree does Jewish religion and mythology suggest individuals’ abilities to control their fate? Do their attempts to do so ever come to fruition?
8. What is the significance of the ritualization of death and grieving in the Jewish culture? How are the major deaths in the book—from the three farmers’ in 1930 to Neta’s to Ze’ev’s—treated differently?
9. Plants and trees carry great symbolic weight for the characters. Which plants are most auspicious, and how does the way a character treats his or her plants reflect his or her personality? Consider the connection between Ze’ev and his carob tree, and his various rules for the plants and people he lets into the nursery.
10. Ruta describes Eitan after “the disaster” as her second husband, whose “change is complete, like an insect’s metamorphosis” (p. 13). How is his retreat from the world understood by the other men around him, and how does Ruta express her own feelings of guilt and remorse? Does either of them ever fully reconcile with themselves, and with each other?
11. Can you draw any parallels between Ruta and Ruth, including in how they respond to their own marital disappointments?
12. By the end of the book, did your opinion of Ze’ev change from your first impressions of him? In what ways is he the root system of the network of families, deceits, and romances in the novel?