Two fates, the life stories of two women, unfold alongside each other in this book by Judith Rotem. One of the women, Yuli, is a migrant worker from Ukraine, escaping from a life of penury and deprivation and from the treacherous father of her children. She comes to Tel Aviv with her younger son, 5-year-old Dima. The older boy, Genia, has stayed behind with Yuli’s mother. Yuli wanders around the old bus terminal, an area inhabited by migrant workers and other misfits, and strives to create a livable situation for her son and herself. The book tells of her efforts to find a job and decent accommodation, and how she tries to protect the child in a harsh and cruel neighborhood. As she walks around and works at a small café in the area, she meets a man called Barry, who helps her in a number of ways. Yuli is compelled to depend upon him, until she ultimately discovers that this reliance has a terrible price. She meets an Eritrean asylum-seeker, Koplom, whose situation is also desperate.
The other woman, Shelly, is much older than Yuli. She was widowed several years previously and she has given up on religion, in order to gain freedom and seek a loving and creative way of life. As she struggles with her memories of the past and with her longing for her dead husband, she is swept into a disconcerting, emotional and stormy late-life romance that threatens her world and her psyche – with the same Barry who Yuli has encountered.
On the surface, there’s no connection between the two stories, which are played out in two worlds that are remote from each other and with two heroines who very different. But nevertheless, despite the differences there is an invisible cord linking the two: Barry, an Orthodox Jew, a seductive, multifaceted character enters both of their lives, and functions inside them as a mysterious character with a deceitful charm.
This novel, which alternately tells the stories of two women who have both made courageous choices and sacrifices for the sake of their future lives, but who both also have to pay a price for having done so. Questions of freedom, choice, passion, survival and enslavement crop up again and again in a book that takes an unwavering look at contemporary Israel society.
Rotem writes wonderfully, quotes from the Bible and from Hebrew poetry, and rummages in the human soul as only a few writers can do.
A novel rich in feelings, lovely and stirring, that has within it a verbal and cultural wealth and is an expression of the personal and literary maturity of the writer.