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Authors: Gail Hareven

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The Confessions of Noa Weber

BOOK: The Confessions of Noa Weber
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Copyright © Gail Hareven 2009
Worldwide translation copyright © by The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew
Literature. Originally published in Hebrew as
She’ahava Nafshi
, by Keter Publishing.

The author and Melville House wish to thank David Stromberg whose kind assistance made this book possible.

Passage from
Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Charles Johnston (Penguin Classics 1977, Revised edition 1979). Copyright © Charles Johnston, 1977, 1979. Lines from “When a Stranger Comes to the City” from
The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse
edited by T. Carmi (Allen Lane, 1981). Copyright © T. Carmi, 1981. Lines from “How Can I See You, Love?” Copyright © David Vogel, trans. Arthur C. Jacobs in
Holocaust Poetry
, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
www.mhpbooks.com

The Library of Congress has cataloged the paperback edition as follows:
Har’even, Gayil.
  [She-ahavah nafshi. English]
  The confessions of Noa Weber / Gail Hareven; translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. – [1st English ed.]
         p. cm.
   eISBN: 978-1-61219-030-3
   I. Bilu, Dalya. II. Title.
PJ5055.23.A75S5413 2007
892.4′36–dc22

2007046685

v3.1

Contents
 
A CALM DISTANCE, A PANORAMIC VIEW

The city of J lies at the top of the hills of J. That’s how I’d like to begin my story; at a calm distance, with a deep breath, in a panoramic shot focusing very slowly on a single street, and very slowly on a single house, “this is the house where I was born.” But you’d be making a fool of yourself if your J were Jerusalem, since every idiot knows about Jerusalem. And altogether it’s impossible to talk about Jerusalem any more. Impossible, that is to say, without “winding alleys” and “stone courtyards,” “caper bushes” and “Arab women in the market place.” And I have nothing to say about caper bushes and stone courtyards, nor do I have the faintest desire to flavor my story with the colorful patois of colorful Jerusalem characters, twirling their mustaches as they spin Oriental tales.

Nor do I intend to mention here the hills of J, in other words the Judean Hills. These hills always depressed me with their thick history and the thin trunks of their pine trees, and the picnic leftovers scattered over the dry pine needles. And anyone who didn’t spread out a picnic blanket and open a picnic basket surely trailed behind
their scoutmasters there in the footsteps of Judah Maccabee and Uri Ben-Ari and the continuing saga of Jewish heroism, which I somehow managed to forget, however hard they drilled it into my head.

Of all the things that preoccupy my thoughts, not a single one happened to me between the thorny burnet and the arbutus tree, and so from now on I’ll do without the geographical features, the ancient human landscape, the black goat and the briar, with all those details that compose what is referred to as the panoramic view. And even if once upon a time, a great many years ago, I went for walks in the forests of J, it definitely isn’t worth the effort of distancing the camera for the sake of those ancient neckings. They’re about as riveting as the autumn crocuses. Or the spring. Or whatever you call them. The truth is that I wasn’t really born in Jerusalem, either. I was eight when my parents left the kibbutz—for seven years after that we lived in Tel Aviv—and if I began by saying, for example, “I was born in the Emek Hospital,” you’d come right back: “Ahaa, of course, my two sisters-in-law gave birth there too,” and immediately want to talk to me about “that amazing midwife, the one with the faint mustache, worth more than all the doctors put together, you don’t mean to say you’ve never heard of her?”

It isn’t my personal problem as a writer. It isn’t my personal problem that a person who was born here can’t open with the words “I was born”—because so what? So you were born, good for you, you were born, okay, and then what? Because after “I was born” has to come an adventure story that will take the first person far, far away from his birthplace, and how far can you really get from here? To the Far East on the beaten track of the ex-warriors from the Golani Brigade? To Uman with the nutcases of the Bratslav
Hassids to their rabbi’s grave? And however far you went you’d end up meeting someone who knew your cousin’s cousin. Not interesting. Not interesting at all.

Not that I’m complaining, God forbid. The facts of my birth and upbringing have nothing to do with what follows here, and even if they did, you need calm and composure to distance the camera like that; calm and composure and a sense of historical perspective, and as far as my situation is concerned, I clearly suffer from a severe lack of both.

For the record I’ll simply mention here that I was favored by the luck of the draw. I grew up well fed and protected, and that’s another reason why where and how I “came into the world” is not a matter of public interest. People who’ve survived a holocaust, who were born into a world that no longer exists, they can begin their biographies with “I was born.” The heroes of nineteenth century novels begin with “I was born,” my heroic father can begin his story with “I was born.” Not me. My early history is too boring, it fails to provide any explanation for what happened to me in later years, and I have never felt the urge to examine it or whine about it. Nor do I now.

In any case, it’s no great loss, and if the right to say “I was born” has to be paid for in dire catastrophes, stepfathers, orphanages, and picking pockets in the marketplace, I say, “No thanks,” and choose to enter this story at the age of seventeen, where the real me begins:

Me and my love for Alek—which against my better judgment I experience as transcendence. Me with my dybbuk—which is the only thing that gives me a sense of space.

Forty-seven, that’s how old I am now; forty-eight in September.

FORTY-SEVEN

Forty-seven years old, and in my twenty-something years as a writer it’s never happened that I wrote a story in the first person. Not that I haven’t felt like sending the heroine of my books, that paragon of perfection Nira Woolf, to hell, and sometimes I’ve had the passing thought that maybe one day in the future, in some sober, even-breathed maturity, I would change my genre. I’ve had thoughts along those lines, but it’s never, ever occurred to me to push myself into the story, and what’s more, to puff and pant it in the first person.

I enjoyed writing my detective stories, I enjoyed the status they gave me—writing thrillers isn’t a bad profession, especially when they have a surplus value in the educational and political sense—and when I took care in various interviews to clarify that I had “no other literary pretensions,” it wasn’t a total lie. And it still isn’t a lie.

In one of the newspapers’ holiday supplements there was an interview I gave for the release of my latest book,
What Did Mrs. Neuman Know?
In this book Nira Woolf sets out on the trail of a network of pimp slave traffickers importing Russian sex slaves, “and the trail leads her from the suburbs of Moscow to the Israeli Ministry of Interior, up to the highest echelons of the Israeli police,” as the blurb says on the back cover. I came out of the interview okay: I managed to get in a few shocking statistics about the trafficking of women, and with my well-known sensitivity to sociopolitical issues—let the envious eat their hearts out—I spelled out enough of a sociopolitical agenda for a holiday supplement.

Since I know my own political agenda quite well, I have to admit that as soon as I opened the newspaper it was actually the picture that
grabbed my attention. It was a cruel photograph, even though I don’t believe that the photographer or the editor meant me harm on purpose. I looked like a weird little girl turned into a wooden doll. Because of the angle of the shot, my feet were enormous, my seated body was hidden behind wooden calves gnarled with veins, and above my knees was a dark face surrounded by unkempt witch’s hair, with wide-open eyes popping out of their sockets. I can only blame my own stupidity; I shouldn’t have let them photograph me on the steps of my house in the spring light in running shorts and red sneakers without any makeup. Once, I could have gotten away with it, but not now, not at my age.

• • •

One of the pieces of nonsense they feed people is the idea of “times of life crises”—adolescent crisis, forties crisis, fifties crisis, end of the millennium syndrome crisis—book shops and newspapers are full of this shit, and there are people who actually live their lives from manual to manual as if age and time were explainable. Somehow I have never thought seriously about age, and now too, ever since that photograph, it’s not about the age of forty-seven that I think, but rather about the ages to come.

Let’s say Noa Weber is suddenly sixty-eight. A bony body full of the opinions of a militant old lady, climbing tip-tap up those same old stairs. An old body full of opinions entering its old house, and lying down on the same old bed to give its feet a rest. And when this Noa Weber finally lies down, what exactly runs through her brain’s worn-out connections? Does she polish up one of her correct opinions? Reflect compassionately about one of the victims in her books? Does she think about reforming
society and justice for all? Definitely not. Just like now, Noa Weber thinks about him. She thinks about him, and wrinkles twitch around the dry mouth that still moans, and a hand blotched with liver spots moves down to her gray pubic hair. Sixty-eight years old, and still her heart goes out to he who is gone and to that which is gone, and still her body arches at the memory of his touch. Wretched, wretched, wretched Noa Weber, wretched her love that is beyond time and place, wretched her sparse pubic hair with the white skin showing through.

Noa Weber is old and moaning. Noa Weber is forty-seven and moaning. For years she’s been moaning, and there’s nothing new in her moans or her fantasies, and the self-disgust isn’t new either.

Sometimes you have to stick your finger down your throat and vomit up the disgusting insides of the self … sometimes you have to increase the nausea in order to get rid of the disgust.…

The light of the computer screen is the best disinfectant.

• • •

For years this itch has been coming and going in me, like a gravitation toward suicide, like a yearning for purification. Like a demon that whispers to me: Now, now, imagine them all … put them into a hall, row after row … Miriam, Talush, your parents, Hagar, Osnat, friends and fellow citizens, all your readers, and all the fucked-up activists and employees of the fund. Seat them in front of you one by one, and then snigger yourself to death before their eyes.

To confess to the finish … to confess till it finishes me off … to talk about him, to talk about myself, to talk so I won’t have to bear it any more.
To talk until I can’t stand myself any longer. To talk, to talk, to talk myself to death—this is apparently why I’m standing here before you today.

Forty-seven years old. My daughter will turn twenty-nine this summer, and this story certainly isn’t meant for her. Children, I believe, don’t need to know the whole truth about their parents, and a gasping confession without any perspective won’t make her any the wiser. In any case she’s smarter than I am, or perhaps not smarter, but clearer and more sensible. Her mouth is always where her heart is. I need my daughter, the first row in my imaginary audience, while Hagar is clearly in no need at all of my imaginary striptease.

All my Nira Woolf novels have great beginnings that lead straight into the plot. I put a lot of thought into my opening sentences. The opening sentences and the closing sentences. That’s the kind of orderly plot in which I’d like to package myself and my love; to lead my madness along until it leaves me, to lead it and myself along like a story to the end.

A PANORAMIC PICTURE

I told you to forget about a panoramic view, but there’s one panorama at least that I can offer you. A panoramic picture of the disease I’ve been dragging around with me for almost thirty years. The picture that comes up on the computer screen after midnight is at its brightest between two and four in the morning, and fades gradually towards dawn, Israel time:

BOOK: The Confessions of Noa Weber
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