Finishing up my Levantine reading gradually, in fact quite slowly because I've enjoyed the stay so much.Barely scraped the surface I know but I have the inkling of a feel for the countries and the merest hint about literary output but all enough to have made its mark and I will surely recognise the place when I return, which I certainly will.
I've had quite a run of Jewish-Israeli reading and If You Awaken Love by Emuna Elon published by Toby Press fits snugly into this category.
Emuna Elon was born in Jerusalem in 1955 and has lived in the settlement of Beit-El since 1982. Married with six children this is her first novel.
If like me you wanted to get a real feel for the Jewish Orthodox faith and its implications for day to day living this book more than satisfies the need. I tend to dislike glossaries in books, much preferring the writing to somehow provide me with a reasoned guess at a meaning, but in this case I make an exception. The glossary has answered every unknown I have ever had about Judaism from tefillin and phylacteries to kugel.
Devoutly orthodox Shlomtzion and Yair have been sweethearts since childhood. Feeling certain that their life together is willed by God, they expect spiritual approval and permission for their engagement to be a formality when they seek it from the Rosh Yeshiva. Heartbroken when permission is denied the young couple split and whilst Yair continues to live in Jerusalem and follow the Orthodox faith, Shlomtzion flees both her homeland and her faith eventually settling in New York.
Haunted by the break up, years later the couple's paths are destined to cross again in the most unlikely way.
Whilst being a close and detailed account of Shlomotzion's life blighted by love and sorrow, the life, the land, the faith and the politics weave in and out of this story too. Beautifully written and translated from Hebrew by David Hazony, and I have emerged furnished with what feels like a balanced view on life in Israel.
Through the vehicle of what is ostensibly a love story, Emuna Elon traverses the tricky historical period from the Six Day War to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin with a surprisingly even-handed approach for one who lives in a settlement, presenting the arguments on both the Jewish and the Palestinian sides through several of her characters. Extremist views are carefully leavened (probably the wrong word in the circumstances but describes perfectly) with arguments for peace. Whilst the emphasis is determinedly and inevitably Israeli she doesn't let this cloud her judgement and I sensed Emuna Elon striving hard for balance and pragmatism in her approach.
But really I have to add, what do I know?
This is such difficult political territory and, current reading aside, I knew precious little about it beyond that provided by the media here in the UK, barely enough to form an opinion one way or the other . Returning to the sources of the conflict albeit via fiction has been both informative and enlightening and I feel I have certainly gleaned a greater understanding of why this is all such a powder keg.
But underneath it all that awareness remains, that same human condition, the soul that struggles to survive and grow no matter where you place it.