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The One Facing Us

Esther, seventeen years old, wild and rebellious, is sent from Israel to Cameroon to stay with her hardheaded uncle Sicourelle, who is charged with straightening her out. But Esther resists her uncle’s plans for her future—which include marriage to a cousin—and in the privileged indolence of postcolonial Africa, she looks to the past instead. Using sepia portraits and scraps of letters, Esther pieces together the history of her family, a once grand Egyptian-Jewish clan, and its displacement from Cairo in the 1950s to Israel, West Africa, and New York.

As the worn photographs yield their secrets, Esther uncovers a rich tale of wives and ex-wives; revolving mistresses and crushing marriages; intrigues and disappointments; poignant contrasts between the living past and the dead present. In sensuous, inventive prose, Matalon penetrates the mysteries of cultural exile and family life to produce a first novel that is mature, authentic, and deeply moving.

Dutch, English, French, German
Title The One Facing Us
Writer's Last Name Matalon
Writer's First Name Ronit
Genre Fiction
Publisher (Hebrew) Am Oved
No. Pages 313pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Ze Im Ha-Panim Eleinu
  • “ A haunting first novel…Matalon makes a strong case for the necessity of unearthing the past, even if it is in fragments. ”

    New York Times Book Review
  • “ Matalon’s story draws you in like a child’s fairy tale turned on its head… It is full of strange and wondrous people. ”

    Los Angeles Times
  • “ A stylish narrative, gifted with insight, that flows like quicksilver. ”