How does this sound for the premise of a book? You've heard of marriages undertaken to help someone emigrate? Europe is in the throes of a war. Two men leave Palestine to marry women they have never met in order to help them escape to safety. One man is virile and attractive and the other shy and unlucky in love. It is the latter who by chance is wedded to the most beautiful woman he's ever seen but who in normal circumstances would never have given him a second look. One Night, Markovitch by Israeli author Ayelet Gunder-Goshen is the story of one man's attempt to win this woman's heart.
Since finishing my Israeli Literature class in May, I've taken a little break from my reading, though next to my bedside sits a stack of novels (and a few nonfiction reads as well) inspired by and purchased thanks to my class. One of them is Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's debut novel which won Israel's Sapir Prize. In the back of my mind I'd been contemplating picking one of the books up, and this story sounds like it has everything that I like so much in a story--history, adventure (of not the usual sort), passion, perhaps some humor and maybe even a little love?
Let me introduce you to our unlikely "hero" Yaacov Markovitch. This is how the story begins:
"Yaacov Markovitch wasn't ugly. Which is not to say he was handsome. Little girls didn't burst into tears at the sight of him, but neither did they smile when they saw his face. He was, you might say, gloriously average. Morever, Yaacov Markovitch's face was remarkably free of distinguishing features. So much so that your eyes could not linger on him, but slipped onward to other objects. A tree on the street. A cat in the corner. It required enormous effort to keep looking at the barrenness of Yaacov Markovitch's face. People do not enjoy making enormous efforts, and so they only rarely looked at his face for any length of time. This had its advantages, and the unit commander was aware of them. He looked at Yaacov Markovitch's face for exactly the amount of time he needed, then dropped his gaze. You will smuggle weapons, the unit commander said. With that face, no one will notice. And he was right. Yaacov Markovitch probably smuggled more weapons than any other member of the Irgun, and never came close to being caught. The British soldiers' gaze slid over his face like oil on a gun. If the Irgun members valued Yaacov Markovitch for his daring, he didn't know it. Few people spoke to him."
I like the sound of Yaacov. And I like that he is gloriously average (lots of us are gloriously average and are used to eyes sliding from the face on to other objects--he is so relatable). I miss my class, and have missed reading Israeli fiction. It's sort of odd how starting this book now feels strangely familiar--like returning to a place you've visited and enjoyed but didn't realize you had been missing it.
Now I have itchy fingers to continue. If you'll excuse me, I am off to follow Yaacov into his adventures. Check back, I am sure I'll be sharing more here later . . .