"Ten Thousand Lovers"
(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer NOV 30, 2003)
"The word for interrogation is haqira, from the root hqr. Hebrew is a sparse language but Hebrew words often resonate in complex ways because of their history in ancient biblical and mystical and exegetical texts. The verb hqr is an example of such a word. It means to investigate, ponder, cross-examine, research, interrogate and look closely at a text with a questioning mind in order to discover its hidden meaning."
Lily was born in Israel, but her family left the troubled state in the hope of a better life in Canada. She's returned to her old homeland to rediscover herself, and to study linguistics at the university. While hitchhiking to Tel Aviv, a handsome man named Ami, an ex-actor, picks her up. He seems like everything you could possibly want...he's charming, intelligent, and pleasant...but he makes his living as an army interrogator. Now, years later, with a full grown daughter of her own, Lily has decided to revisit this past, writing it down and telling us about their relationship; while contrasting it with her daughter's own budding relationship with a young musician. This is not the only story she tells, she also tells us about the Israel of the 1970's, a place of beauty and history deeper, practically, than the Earth's crust. It is also a place of scars that never fade.
When a book says heartbreaking on the cover, you know there's a good chance that by the end you'll be needing a box of tissues. Lily talks directly to us, practically pushing inside the invisible fourth wall that usually stands between the reader and the story, and her way of speaking to us, telling her story with Ami, telling of her life now, stopping to explain Hebrew and Arabic words that come up in the story -- is very personal. She has a way of making things flow...the words speed by, and you have a hard time putting the book down as it builds to the end. By the end of the book, Lily's voice has become the voice in your own head, and when the heartbreaking moment comes, it is written so movingly that you can't help but weep. The relationship with Ami and Lily is beautiful and it resonates...her getting past his profession; as well as her learning to love and trust. Ami, even though we see him through biased eyes, charms the reader as well with his charisma and his way of viewing the world they live in. The characterization is especially interesting because Ravel uses her characters...her Canadian Lily, who's relearning the Israeli ways, and her Israeli lover to contrast and point out the cultural character of these people. Their irony, their way of looking at things...things they ask that people in my culture wouldn't, and why. I particularly liked the fact that they'll ask right out how much money you make, not to be nebby, but to see who's getting the best deal. She truly gives a clear picture of Israel at that time, a place that enchanted me as much as it broke my heart. Another relationship is explored...the relationship between the couple and Israel. In one scene, Ami stands in front of a window and asks, "Beloved country, where are you?" In many ways, this encapsulates the whole of this part of the story. Ravel takes a hard look at the Israel of this time. Lily and Ami's closet friend in this book is a Palestinian named Ibrahim...and through him, as well as through Ami and Lily's own (what would seem to most of their countrymen) radical politics, show us both sides of the conflict. We see what both sides have done to each other, and how it infects Israel itself. In someway, Israel is a heroine of this tale, well-meaning, beautiful, but tragically flawed.
It's been a few days since I've read this book, but it still haunts me. I set my "ready for review" books next to my computer; I found myself picking this book up time and time again, to re-read a passage here and there. Even without the buildup of reading the whole thing page after page, I am still moved just thinking of certain passages. This brilliant story is more that just a romance, it is a story that gives a real insight about the Israeli state of the '70's, and the picture we walk away with is very hard to forget. This is a genuine literary experience.
- Amazon readers rating: from 20 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Ten Thousand Lovers at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Lovers: A Midrash (1994)
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- Edeet Ravel nominated for Governor General literary award
- Montreal Mirror - Edeet Ravel clarifies the information in this article
- Forward.com review of Ten Thousand Lovers
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About the Author:
Edeet Ravel was born and raised on a Marxist Israeli kibbutz until she was seven and then her parents moved to Canada. As a young adult in the early 1970s, she spent five years in Israel and returns regularly to work with a peace group. Ten Thousand Lovers is her first novel; it was nominated for the 2003 Governor General literary award. She holds a Ph.D. in Jewish studies and now teaches creative literature in Montreal.