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Piano in Winter

It all happens at Joe’s Piano Bar in a small village in the north of Israel. On a cold and stormy night in December, Joe Ochana, an aging ex-seaman, is working at the bar; with him are his pianist, a weary and frustrated man, and a young Arab kitchen worker, Fadil. A party of six-four go-getting young men and two women-stop there on their way back to Tel Aviv. It is getting late. Joe wants to close his bar and go home, but the guests insist on having a drink. Outside, it is raining hard and inside, with or without strong drinks, a quarrel breaks out, awakening the sleeping demons of Israeli society-the tension between prosperous urbanites and underprivileged periphery, Jews and Arabs, women and men. But no one suspects how this dark night will end.

Piano in Winter is an almost cinematographic drama, that skillfully builds up the tension between the varied, sharply etched characters. What emerges from Shamir’s powerful writing, as it shifts from soft piano music to a fist in the stomach, is the Israeli condition-a story of men who do not give in. By dawn the entire bar is in ruins. Fadil is rushed unconscious to hospital and the others go home. The night has come to an end, but the memory of it will remain. As does the major question in the book: could things have been different?

Piano in Winter won the Wiener Prize for Original Writing.

Title Piano in Winter
Writer's Last Name Shamir
Writer's First Name Ayelet
Genre Fiction
Publisher (Hebrew) Am Oved
No. Pages 315pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Psanter Ba-Choref
  • “Built like a piece of music … This debut novel so accomplished, so well controlled, it looks like a classic … Has a place between Greek tragedy, Albert Camus and Jean Genet.”

    Matricule des anges
  • “Ayelet Shamir has written a rare and very powerful first novel. Harsh, slashing, without any niceties, she explores Israeli society in the grip of tensions between rich and poorer, men and women, Jews and Arabs … A modern drama with a tense melody that gets ever louder.”

  • “I found myself helpess under the whip of [Shamir’s] language … This is an authentic Greek tragedy … The last movement of this symphony bursts out with Wagnerian force, leaving a deafening silence in its wake.”