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About the Night by Anat Talshir

book cover of About the Night

I just couldn't really manage to get interested in this story about the secret romance between a Palestinian man and a Turkish Jew in Jerusalem. It's very slow, and the story seems to meander a lot. The height of Elias and Lila's romance really happens early in the book, and then everything after that is about how hard their lives are, and how they can't even see each other for 19 years between 1948 and 1967. If anything, I found the character of Nomi a bit more interesting, and how she came from an utterly dysfunctional family to a (seemingly) rewarding career trying to place kids from the foster system with sympathetic families.

The other thing that kind of bothered me about this book is that it was very one-sided about the cultural background it sought to portray. The blurb and a number of reviews described this book as being told from Elias' perspective, but if so then why is Palestinian (oh sorry, “Arab”... I don't think this book uses the words “Palestine” or “Palestinian” even once) culture reduced to just tea and spiced food and, apparently, going along with it when your parents arrange your marriage to someone you barely know? Towards the end, Elias is all like, “I don't even believe in culture or religion,” and I have to wonder if that was mainly to make him more palatable to a largely-Jewish readership, because certainly none of the Jewish characters ever talk about Jewish culture or Judaism being meaningless. The book is, at least, critical of Israeli policies in Jerusalem (like the expropriation of all Palestinian-owned properties in West Jerusalem) as well as of the idea that Israelis and Palestinians can't live alongside one another (praising coexistence in Jaffa, for example). But that feels like the bare minimum that this book should've done, you know? It's almost like the author was implying that Israelis and Palestinians can coexist, just so long as Palestinians don't stand out or do anything too “Palestinian-y”. Maybe that wasn't the reason for the oversight, and rather it was just that Talshir didn't know very much about Palestinian culture (unlike her own, obviously) and either didn't want to do the research or didn't trust herself to depict it authentically or thought (since this book has been translated from Hebrew) depicting Elias' culture would set her readers against him. But eh. The imbalance was something that irked me pretty much throughout the book.

★★

photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.