A WALL OF LIGHT by Edeet Ravel (Random House), 256 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Giller juries work in mysterious ways, none more so than this year's, which named many fine but not necessarily superlative novels to the short list. (The winner will be announced Tuesday, November 8.) A Wall Of Light made the cut, probably because it probes the complexities of paradox-ridden Israel in new ways.
The story is told from the point of view of three Israelis. One is Sonya, a brilliant mathematician struck deaf as a child because of medical error. She lives with her much older, very protective half-brother Kostya, whose leftist wife, Iris, a lawyer, was assassinated while working on a case that could discredit the government.
Also included are letters dating from the late 50s from Kostya's mother, once an acclaimed actor, to her husband in Russia, and 12 years of diary entries by Kostya's son Noah, beginning in 1980 and ending just after his stint in the Israeli army.
Sonya is a fascinating character - brainy, full of sexual longing and nerve. A survivor of two major traumas (she was also raped by twin thugs), she has huge strength, but her self-esteem is wobbly. Fearing that a deaf woman will never be seen as attractive, she nevertheless initiates an encounter with an Arab taxi driver with surprising results.
But Ravel's emphases feel a little off. There's too little of Noah's consciousness-raising experience in the Israeli army - a rich area that has never been probed deeply enough - and almost nothing about the radical Iris, who deserves her own diary.
And Ravel's too elliptical on the subject of Palestinians' experience. We know she has terrific acumen. The sequence in which Sonya scales The Wall separating Palestinians from Israelis is a brilliant one, but the commentary is too subtle.
Still, a fascinating glimpse inside Israel.