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Fairest Among Women

Shifra Horn
Rosa is the most beautiful woman in Jerusalem and the fattest woman in Israel. Her thrilling and colorful story, which opens in the 1940s and ends in the 1990s, combines reality and legend, events that follow familiar laws with supernatural occurrences, magical, sophisticated descriptions with grotesque and comical situations.
Rosa's earliest memory is associated with a grand Jerusalem villa, abandoned by its Arab inhabitants who fled in panic during the War of Independence. Rosa, her widowed mother and uncle Joseph moved into one of the rooms, and Rosa got the decorated bed of an Arab girl whom she had never met, but whose ghostly presence accompanied her dreams for the rest of her life. The other rooms were also occupied - by poor Jewish families who survived the Holocaust. One of these people used to tempt little Rosa with biscuits and tell her about the horrors he had experienced. That was when Rosa's obsessive hunger began, and she would eat whatever she could get hold of. But while her measurements grew, so did her beauty, and when four bright butterflies came to rest on her childish golden curls, it was predicted that she would have four husbands.
The first was her uncle Joseph, a man of extreme sexual appetite, who seduced her during the Suez campaign, when she was only fourteen. Rosa became pregnant, and the delighted Joseph married her. Her story, as she became a mother but went on with her studies was published in the Israeli press, but this was not the only time that Rosa made headlines in the gossip columns. She had seven children, who grew up and left home. When she was fifty, Rosa gave birth to her last daughter, a disabled child who did not develop and remained as small as she was at the age of two. When this girl - whom Rosa named Mal'akh, Angel - was born, Joseph succumbed to Alzheimer's and declined very rapidly. After his death Rosa married Shraga, a diminutive dance instructor who was also the first boy to kiss her at school. During their short marriage, Rosa's body continued to grow, until one night she crushed her husband to death in their bed. He was followed by Shmuel, a painter and Holocaust survivor, who had admired Rosa from afar for years. He became famous and when the two of them visited Rome, Fellini admired her opulent form and invited her to take part in a film. Eventually Shmuel went out of his mind, and Rosa soon buried him too. After her daughter jumped to her death, Rosa too disappeared; at the same time several of her male acquaintances also disappeared mysteriously. Did one of them become her fourth husband? No one in Jerusalem has been able to answer this question.

The many tales Horn spins are by turns sad, salty, funny and always inventive, delicious in their detail. 
Publishers Weekly 

Horn has lovingly concocted a zesty novel….spiced with saffron, honey and sesame for dessert, and a varied, graceful accounting of Rosa’s assortment of charms.
World Literature Today

Rose’s story and a kaleidoscope of characters [..] follow one another over fifty years of life in Jerusalem, with touches of magical realism that have caused critics to suggest a similarity to Isabelle Allende. 
Io Donna

Horn Fairest Among Women
Title Fairest Among Women
Author’s Last Name Horn
Author's First Name Shifra
Language(s) English, German, Italian, Dutch, Turkish
Genre novel
Publisher (Hebrew) Keshet
Year of Publication (Hebrew) 1998
No. Pages 336 pp.
Book title - Hebrew (phonetic) Ha-Yafa Ba-Nashim
Representation Represented by ITHL


German: Munich, Bertelsmann, 2001
English: New York, St. Martin`s Press, 2001; London, Piatkus, 2001; 2002
Dutch: Amsterdam, Archipel/Arbeiderspers, 2001
Italian: Rome, Fazi, 2001; pback: 2003
Turkish: Istanbul, Apollon, 2010

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