At first glance, the two novellas in this book seem to stand in contrast to each other. In reality, however, they create a fascinating web of relationships, illuminating each other and reflecting the changes undergone by Israeli society from the pre-state "days of innocence" to the present-day era of social alienation that characterizes life in the big city.
The first and longer of the two novellas, They Burn Fuse Boxes, is set in a typical Tel Aviv apartment building in the early 1990s, during the Gulf War. It tells the stories of several residents: two domestic workers - an Arab and a Jew - and a red cat, adopted and later abandoned by two of the residents. It opens with the grotesque death of a solitary old woman by asphyxiation, as a result of a fire in the fuse box in the stairwell of her building. It ends with the heartrending death of the cat at the exact spot where it was separated from its mother as a kitten. Using the framework of these two deaths, Kenaz deftly weaves the lives of the lonely, pathetic residents of the building - lives that inspire neither empathy nor compassion, that are fraught with failure, anxiety and petty quarrels.
The second novella, Landscape with Three Trees, presents a family - two parents and a child - living in Haifa during the period of the British mandate toward the end of World War II. Told from the child`s perspective, it focuses on an eccentric British soldier who befriends the family and gives them a copy of a Rembrandt painting he has painstakingly executed. The young boy`s attention is divided between his compelling Algerian neighbors, in whose home his parents rent an apartment, and the British soldier who has distanced himself from his comrades, preferring to force his company on a Jewish family. He succumbs to his painting as a desperate, stubborn attempt to cling to the beauty of the world.
It is with Israel’s landscapes, its inhabitants, and the peculiarities of their development that Kenaz fills out his beautiful novels full of strength and insight, completely imbued with the complexities of Israeli society.
Le Monde des livres
Kenaz could have written “committed” literature. He preferred the intimate, the taut and confined... simple ordinary people in confined spaces – an apartment building, a hospital, a barracks... But his stories extend beyond their limited frame to touch the universal.
Le Figaro littéraire
Kenaz is a master in his field.
One of the major qualities of Kenaz’s work is the dynamics between detail and general picture, and as with Grossman, the filter of childhood becomes a powerful means of introspection.
English translation available (for publishers only)