This novel about the struggle to identify a nameless victim in the wake of a terrorist bombing in Israel is “a masterpiece” (Claire Messud, The New York Times Book Review).
A woman in her forties is a victim of a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem market. Her body lies unidentified in a hospital morgue. She had apparently worked as a cleaning woman at a bakery, but there is no record of her employment. When a Jerusalem daily accuses the bakery of “gross negligence and inhumanity toward an employee,” the bakery’s owner, overwhelmed by guilt, entrusts the task of figuring out who she was, and burying her, to a human resources man.
This man is at first reluctant to take on the job, but as the facts of the woman’s life take shape—she was an engineer from the former Soviet Union, a non-Jew on a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and, judging by an early photograph, beautiful—he yields to feelings of regret, atonement, and even love.
At once profoundly serious, absorbingly suspenseful, and darkly humorous, A Woman in Jerusalem is a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize from the renowned author of The Extra and the New York Times Notable Book A Journey to the End of the Millennium.
“An elegantly structured, thoroughly accessible story, albeit one with rich philosophical layers . . . moves us with deep insights into the meaning of home, belonging and the fate of the stranger.” —Miami Herald
Israel's master novelist (Mr. Mani) tells a spellbinding tale about a spellbinding woman whose luminous smile, swan's neck and Tatar eyes are so beguiling that even in death she can lead a man to fall in love with her. The woman is Yulia Ragayev, a Slavic immigrant to Israel who has been killed in a terrorist bombing and whose corpse lies unidentified in a morgue for a week. The man (who, like everyone in the novel except Yulia, remains nameless) is the human resources manager at the commercial bakery where Yulia worked as a cleaning woman. A muckraking article forces the bakery's owner to discover her identity and take action to restore her dignity. The owner orders the HR director to return Yulia's body to her son and mother in her native land for burial a journey that turns into an opportunity for moral redemption for him after a series of stunning reversals. Throughout, Yulia remains a mystery: why did she come to, and cling to, Jerusalem when she wasn't Jewish? Questions of morality, dignity, identity, nationality and belonging are subtly explored in sometimes hallucinatory prose, fluently translated by Halkin. This short novel's layers reveal themselves only gradually and, once revealed, continue to compel and provoke.