Monday, June 11, 2012

The Kreutzer Sonata Set in Israel - Review of "Second Person Singular" by Sayed Kashua

Sayed Kashua has written a deeply moving and powerful novel.  The  center of the theme is Tolstoy's novella, "The Kreutzer Sonata."   The music piece by the same name was composed by Beethoven.  Tolstoy's piece examines the irrational jealousy of a husband who kills his wife in a fit of passion.  Kashua has taken these dynamics and transplanted them to present day Jerusalem amid the background noise of the "Palestinian Question" in Israel.

A successful Palestinian, a lawyer who is an Israeli citizen, buys a copy of Toltoy's novella, and in it finds a love note written in his wife's hand.  Assuming that she is carrying on an elicit affair with Yonathan, whose name is in the used book, the lawyer becomes consumed with discovering the treason and punishing his wife.  Yonathan is a poor Palestinian social worker from the humble Triangle region.  He aspires to become a photographer, and changes his identity so that he can pass as Jewish.  The identity he steals is that of a patient who hovers in a vegetative state after a failed suicide attempt.

The story is told beautifully in counterpoint - going back and forth between the two Palestinian protagonists.  It is at once a psychological thriller and a deep exploration of the sociological dynamics at work within present day Israel and even within the fractured Arab community.  Kashua has a keen eye and ear for detail, so the dialogue captures fine nuances of conflict and attempts at communication.

In the Epiloque, just when it appears that the lawyer's suspicions have been laid to rest, he stops by a photo exhibit, and the scab is pulled off the wound and doubts reappear.  The reader is left hanging in suspense - much as Yonathan had hung suspended from his bedroom ceiling in his suicide attempt.  It has the feel of a musical coda that ends with an unresolved dissonance.  Very apt.

Reading this book was a rich and enriching experience.



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