Sunday, January 18, 2009

Language exploration in Edeet Ravel's Ten Thousand Lovers

I hope I'll get a chance soon to write about my most recent reading: Bill Gaston's Sointula as my "fun, own-choice" reading (with an extra bit of inspiration from Mardel) and Rebecca Godfrey's The Torn Skirt, a novel I've included on my 4th-year Canadian fiction course reading list.

But the events in the Middle East recently seem to demand that I pay a bit more attention to Edeet Ravel's Ten Thousand Lovers, so I'm going to give you this example of the narrator's compelling explorations of etymology:

Enemy in Hebrew is oyev and 'the enemy' is ha-oyev. When I was a child in Israel we used that word, ha-oyev, all the time. We, who must fight the enemy. There, where the enemy sits.
I've always found the effect chilling. The enemy is, first of all, faceless and nameless, a dark force hovering in the distance. Apart from that, it's an eternal force, like 'the night' or 'the sky'. The enemy is always there, no matter what. It's something you have to learn to live with. If the enemy had a name, you could ask why you had that particular enemy, and whether there was any way to turn that enemy into an ordinary neighbour, but 'the enemy' is your enemy without rhyme or reason. It's just a matter of bad luck.
On the other hand, the common inflection oyveynu, our enemy, was somehow reassuring. You weren't alone facing the enemy. Everyone was in this together. (64)

The pervasive, coercive force of language is exposed regularly in this manner throughout this thoughtful, sobering, yet determined-to-be-hopeful little book. Indeed, I find the willingness of even this single Israeli narrator to examine the roots of her national situation hopeful in itself -- she's not alone in the novel or, I know, in Israel. Again, I'd recommend this for its own many delights and for the broadened perspective on a very important, very complicated issue with global implications that touch all of us.

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