Don’t Call Me Job takes an ironic, gently humorous and compassionate view of the biblical story. Rather than stressing the pain of Job, the icon of intense suffering, Birstein reveals that the strains of Job's lament can be heard in the most mundane and even fortunate lives.
A five-hour meeting in Jerusalem between three men – two old friends and a relative stranger – is the physical setting of the story, but the plot concerns long periods in the lives of the protagonists and of other characters. The three men are the narrator, his childhood friend, Shlomo Shapira – who survived an impoverished childhood in Poland to become a millionaire in Australia and then settled in Jerusalem – and the locksmith, Henrik Daddon. Shapira calls Daddon to change the locks in his Jerusalem house so that his wife, Orna, who has abandoned him and has a habit of returning unexpectedly, will not be able to enter.
During the hours the three spend in Shapira's spacious living room, he attempts to set up a date between Daddon and Geula, the woman carrying his child. Their talk drifts to Orna, who lives suspended between her former incarnations, detached from her present life, and to Zalman Rokman, a young Orthodox leader who severed all ties with his past. There is also William Waddle, the Australian miner who devotes himself to finding gold, without realizing that its pursuit has become the focus of his life. There are also the narrator's father, who lives in the world of ghosts and spirits, and Geula, who links sex and money to satisfy Shapira’s perverse desires.
During this meeting, the narrator warns Shlomo Shapira that he will be plagued with Job's anguish. In fact, Shapira is a man who abolishes the divisions between love and hate, money and death, good and bad – until he brings disaster upon himself. Though he does not want to be called Job, he cannot stop longing for new beginnings.
Don't Call Me Job is a rare feast - a feast of excellent comic-grotesque observation of people, their appearance and obsessions, a feast of dramatic occurrences which stretch the plot to its limits across three continents and some sixty years, and a strange realism shadowed by the fantastic.
Critic Menachem Perry
It doesn't happen often that you finish reading a book and feel a great sense of deprivation... Every minor figure in Don't Call Me Job deserves a novel of its own.
Birstein's strength lies in his power of observation, his original depiction of characters and conditions, his rich descriptions of ordinary, accidental human situations, which often conclude with a statement that is surprising, witty, wise and humorous.
English translation available (for publishers only)