“I am Sonya Vronsky, professor of mathematics at Tel Aviv University, and this is the story of a day in late August. On this remarkable day I kissed a student, pursued a lover, found my father, and left my brother.” So begins A Wall of Light, a novel which chronicles a single day in the life of Sonya, a thirty-two-year-old deaf woman about to break out of her predictable routine.
Sonya lives in Tel Aviv with her protective half-brother, Kostya; their household has dwindled from five to two. Anna, their mother, is now in a nursing home and Noah, Kostya’s son, is living in Berlin. Kostya, wracked with guilt for the tragedies that have befallen Sonya, also grapples with the memory of his wife, Iris, a lawyer murdered in the course of a dangerous investigation seventeen years earlier.
As we move through Sonya’s day, Noah and Anna narrate their stories as well. Noah’s journal entries cover the years 1980-1993, and Anna’s letters to Andrei, her married lover in Russia, are written in 1957, after Anna has emigrated to Israel to build a new life for herself and her son, Kostya. While Sonya’s story moves rapidly through the events of a single day, Noah and Anna’s voices take the reader back in time, filling in the circumstances that have led Sonya to this pivotal moment.
We learn that Sonya has already endured two catastrophes. At age twelve, a medical mishap leaves her deaf, and at eighteen, while studying at university in Beersheba, Sonya is assaulted by two hoodlums. Throughout the novel, Sonya’s experiences, instigated by both human error and human evil, are echoed by the larger, political violence that haunts modern Israel.
While Noah’s and Anna’s voices shed light on Sonya’s journey, they also provide insights into the political and cultural fabric of Israel from the mid 1950s to the present. Noah’s journal entries, starting with his tenth birthday and ending shortly after his army service, map his coming of age. We see him wrestling with his sexual identity and first sexual encounters, the fallout from his mother’s leftist politics, and his own conscription to the army. Anna’s secret letters to Andrei offer an outsider’s perspective on the new Israeli state.
The remarkable events of Sonya’s day are set in motion when her brother gives her an antihistamine. Overcome with sleepiness, she dismisses her morning class early, asking only one student, Matar, to stay behind. She wants to understand what lies behind his unusual expression. He answers that he has been involved in war crimes, and surprises Sonya by kissing her.
Sonya feels that she has been roused from a long slumber and as the novel progresses we see the ways in which her awakened desire shapes her choices. She decides to take a taxi home from the university and impulsively invites the taxi driver inside and seduces him. He complies, but when she tells him she’s deaf, he flees in confusion. Sonya is convinced that she has fallen in love with him, and decides to pursue him. She solicits her brother’s help and sets out to find her lover.
Sonya’s search gains in intensity and purpose as she travels to East Jerusalem. There she encounters the walls that prevent Palestinians from moving freely through the West Bank. After an Alice in Wonderland-like journey past numerous obstacles, Sonya finally makes it to her lover’s house. This second encounter leads Sonya to a central revelation: the identity of her father.
As this day of awakened desire and dispelled secrets closes, Sonya is able to step out from under the protective wing of her brother into a life that reflects both the ambiguity and uncertainty of contemporary Israel and her own personal possibilities.
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel
I am SonyaVronsky, professor of mathematics atTel Aviv University, and this is the story of a day in late August. On this remarkable day I kissed a student, pursued a lover, found my father, and left my brother.
The morning began with a series of sneezes. The sneezes interrupted a dream I was having about a glass-walled elevator that had left its shaft and was shooting about wildly through immense futuristic building complexes. Like something out of Asimov, I thought. I was just starting to enjoy both the sensation and the spectacle when the sneezes woke me.
I like to sleep with the shutters open; I like to feel the sun on my body as soon as I wake. A warm, luminous world awaits me – or so I imagine. Ordinarily, I would have switched off the air-conditioning, opened the window and looked out at our garden; I would have turned my face toward the sky and breathed in the sweet, tyrannous August air. But today my sneezing distracted me. My late-summer allergies were kicking in.
I sat up in my queen-sized bed and reached for the box of rainbow-colored tissues on the night table. I set the box between my knees, which were protruding like two islands from under the sheets. A boxy ship, precariously balanced.
My mother, who slept next to me when I was little, always accompanied her good-night kiss with a quote–affectionate if she was sober (“Come, live with me, and be my love,” for example), gloomier if she was inebriated (“Out, out, brief candle!”).Then she’d turn off the light and I’d snuggle up against her lace nightgown, breathe in her cinnamon perfume. My mother was a night bird; when she woke she was not in a quoting mood. But I am the opposite, more inclined toward poetry in the morning than at bedtime, and I suppose my choices are also somewhat less formal than hers. “You are old, Father William . . . ,” I began, but didn’t finish; a sneeze interrupted me.
Kostya, my darling brother, appeared in the doorway, dark and shadowy because the light was behind him. With his trimmed gray beard and his tall, still body he looked like a character in a French film from the 1960s, a film about alienation and ennui, with the male lead dark and brooding. In fact, he was there to offer me an antihistamine. My brother has very low tolerance for disruption, and the sneezes were annoying him.
But I’m being unfair: he was also trying to help. My poor brother lives with the guilt of my two catastrophes, neither of which he had anything to do with. Human error lay behind the first disaster: twenty years ago, when I was twelve, I was taken to the hospital with a kidney infection, and some nurse or doctor or hospital pharmacist gave me the wrong dose of the wrong drug. I moved into another dimension, spooky at first, frightening at first, then surreal, and finally exotic or ridiculous, depending on the day. I lost my hearing.
And human evil, which no one can entirely avoid, accounts for the artillery unleashed at me in an empty university classroom by stoned twin teenagers with shaven heads and dragon tattoos.
But guilt has a way of insinuating itself into the path of any series of events leading to a given outcome. Kostya believes, for example, that had he fixed our broken toilet, I would not have come down with a kidney infection in the first place. The toilet howled and groaned like a ghoul in chains and I was afraid to use it; my solution was to drink less in order to limit my visits to the bathroom. I didn’t tell anyone about my aversion; had Kostya known, he would have attended to the problem. And then, had I not been deaf I might have heard the twins before seeing them (this is really stretching it) and escaped in time. These are tenuous links but well entrenched in our family mythology.
“Do you want an allergy pill?” my brother asked, speaking as he signed. “It’s non-soporific.” We’d developed so many signing shortcuts and private gestures over the years that by now we almost had our own language.
“Oh ...kay!” I managed to say between sneezes. He vanished and returned with a small yellow pill, his heartbreaking offering of the morning, nestled in the palm of his large, intelligent hand. In his other hand he held a small bottle of Eden spring water.
I obediently swallowed the pill. “You’re lucky I’m so nice to you,” I said.
My brother smiled. It would be no exaggeration to say that he suffers from my misfortunes more than I ever did. He should take comfort in the fact that I have a good life, that I have fun–and maybe he does, to some degree. Maybe not. It’s hard to know for sure.
“Tell me when you’re ready for breakfast,” he said.
I blew him a kiss and he left the room. My briefcase was next to the night table, and I emptied its contents in front of me. Exams, articles, receipts, notes and miscellaneous slips of paper floated out angelically and settled on the bed. I organized them all efficiently and quickly.Then I waddled to the bathroom like a goose headed for its mud pond, and had a shower. There is nothing quite as wonderful and endlessly surprising as a soft, heavy stream of hot water falling on one’s shoulders and down one’s body. I was filled with gratitude, as I always am during the first few moments of a shower, that something so lovely exists on this planet, and I was only sorry that it was not available to everyone. A few kilometers away, there was not even enough drinking water.
But, inexcusably, my sense of guilt soon faded, and as I ran the soapy sea sponge along my legs I succumbed completely to the pleasures of my morning shower.
From the Hardcover edition.
Edeet Ravel was born on a Marxist kibbutz in Israel near the Lebanese border and lived there until she was seven, when her parents returned to their hometown of Montreal. Ravel returned to Israel at the age of eighteen to do a B.A. and M.A. in English literature. After five years of studies in Israel, she returned to Canada, where she completed an M.A. and Ph.D. in Jewish Studies at McGill and an M.A. in Creative Writing at Concordia University. She taught for two decades (Holocaust Studies, Hebrew Literature and Biblical Exegesis at McGill, Creative Writing at Concordia University, and English Literature at John Abbott College).
From a very young age Edeet knew she would become a writer. She wrote for many years, completing several unpublished novels before publishing Ten Thousand Lovers, a novel set in Israel. As soon as Edeet started writing about Israel, she became involved in peace activism, first in Montreal and then in Israel.
A Wall of Light (2005) is the third novel in Edeet’s Tel Aviv trilogy, a series of novels connected loosely by theme and following the lives of strong female narrators searching for love amidst the turmoil of modern Israel. The trilogy includes Ten Thousand Lovers (2003), a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, and Look for Me (2004), winner of the Hugh MacLennan Prize. A Wall of Light was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and for the Regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. It won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for 2005.
Edeet lives in Guelph, Ontario, with her daughter, Larissa.
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel
The scotiabank Giller Prize finalist
Finalist for the Regional commonwealth writers’ prize
“Ravel has written a book that shimmers with suspense, mystery and wit. Tell your friends.”
“Like the great Israeli novelist Amos Oz, Ravel employs the contemporary family unit – a group of disparate people thrown together by genetics or happenstance, loyal to one another despite their differences, and planning for a shared future they can’t predict – as the ideal metaphor for the Jewish state…. She recognizes the cynicism and anger felt by those who have suffered, and her valuable novel offers the simple wish that they will feel love, too – for each other and for life itself.”
–The Globe and Mail
“Edeet Ravel has managed, once again, to write about Arab-Israeli politics without doing any violence to art. This is no mean feat, considering how things are in the Middle East today…. It’s fiction, but it makes for more satisfying reading than the facts.”
–The Gazette (Montreal)
“Ravel is a master of conserving detail and uses it in an almost painterly fashion, while leaving us with the sense of a mystery unravelling teasingly before us…. Ravel’s Vronskys are always determined in their apparently insensible decision-making. What makes them appealing is Ravel’s skill for portraying a sense of universality.”
“If you want to get a feel for what the texture of life is like in Israel, these are your novels.” –Ottawa Citizen
“Ravel is a strong, politically astute writer and scholar.”
–Quill & Quire
Praise for Look for Me:
"[Look for Me] is a novel with a strong moral centre, one that argues forcibly and honourably for an end to hatred and violence. . .The dialogue is crisp, the plot compelling, and the glimpses of the ongoing war are powerful. Not a false note anywhere."
—Cynthia Holz, The Globe and Mail