By Alisa Haber
When you pick up Meir Shalev’s “Two She-Bears,” you immediately are swept into the mystery and fantasy of one of Israel’s most prolific writers.
The title itself evokes storytelling of biblical proportions, so it is no surprise that the narrator is self-proclaimed secular Bible teacher Ruta Tavori. Weaving tales from the past with the raw tragedy of her modern life, Ruta leads the reader down a treacherous path of love and vengeance.
A cross between the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the gruesome suspense of Stephen King, this novel will keep you awake at night. When you fall asleep, your dreams will be inhabited by snakes, screeching birds and the desire to see how long you can hold your breath underwater. But you will also wake up with a sense that forgiveness and redemption can truly happen.
The story of the Tavori family is told under the guise that Varda, a researcher, is studying issues of gender in the history of the moshavot, the rural Jewish settlements of the 1930s. But it is the fiercely independent Ruta who leads the discussion, only occasionally letting Varda ask a question.
Just as the roles of interviewer and interviewee are flipped, so is gender. Ruta, with her small breasts and tall frame, keeps saying she is part man. And the men in the story (when they are not seeking vengeance) exhibit the feminine qualities of tenderness and bonding.
Most perplexing of all is the fantastical patriarch Grandpa Ze’ev. Did he really drive an ox to school every day, pulling his favorite tree in the bed of a wagon?
While this seems like a benign legend, it is clear and unmistakable that he took heinous actions when he learned of his wife’s adulterous affair. Yet it is his loving gentleness that saves Ruta’s husband after the tragedy of their son’s death.
Coming to terms with the paradox of the two men in her life, Ruta finally awakens from her self-imposed indolence. How many times does she say “whatever”?
Whatever the number, this story is worth the telling by Shalev.
Who: Meir Shalev
What: Book Festival
Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16
Tickets: $10 for JCC members and $15 for others; www.atlantajcc.org/bookfestival or 678-812-4005