Ronit Matalon is known for her unwavering aesthetic, keen social awareness, and profound insight into family. For the month of October, Asymptote Book Club is proud to present her latest novel, And the Bride Closed the Door. Awarded Israel’s prestigious Brenner Prize a day before she died of cancer, this humorous and tender work captures a chaotic politics in the intimate microcosm of a single family, combining Matalon’s tremendous literary talents with her passion for interrogating identity, both public and private.
An apology and very special thank you to our European subscribers, who’ve had to wait a bit longer than usual for the book to reach them (hence, too, this somewhat late announcement). Though it’s been famously said that “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays couriers from the swift completion of their rounds,” today’s postal service must fend with much more than the elements; there’s no accounting for logistic mishaps on a global scale! Luckily, thanks to New Vessel and Asymptote’s efforts, Europe-bound copies of the book were finally rescued from postal limbo. Our loyal subscribers will now all receive a lasting gift: a brilliant author and activist writing in her singular language, rescuing empathy from the tumult.
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And the Bride Closed the Door by Ronit Matalon, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen, New Vessel Press, 2019
Young Margie locks herself up in her bedroom on her wedding day. Save for a brief but damning avowal—“Not getting married. Not getting married. Not getting married”—she falls silent for hours. Efforts to dissuade her prove useless: after pleading, pounding, and heatedly debating the merits of a locksmith, her relatives turn to a company said to quell pre-wedding jitters. The firm’s appointed expert can’t get the bride to open the door, but manages to tap on her third-floor window after an electrician from the Palestinian Authority chips in with his lift truck. Little comes of their gymnastics, however: Margie issues a handwritten “sorry” and retreats. The scant missive and a gender-tweaked excerpt from a classic Israeli poem are her only hints at communication. READ MORE…
Maya Tevet Dayan’s poem lays bare the loneliness of grief. Uniquely about the state of being un-mothered, it is universal in conveying intense emotional loss. The nuances of feeling and sentiment have been expertly translated from the Hebrew by Rachel Tzvia Back.
It was evening, it was chaos, it was edge of the abyss.
And the quiet stood still.
A young doctor walked in and walked out
and was unable to say
if you had left or if
you were still here. Because at your end
you were no longer breath
just the hovering wing beat
of a fluttering heart.
Exactly as I once was
in your belly. Heart and heart,
My beginning was a fetus of life.
Your ending was a fetus of death.
I have two confessions to make.
The first is that I’ve never read Amos Oz before. For an Israeli, this is quite shameful. I’m not sure why or how it happened, but somehow, even though everyone I know has read at least some of his work, I’ve managed to miss out on his books. I’ve never had anything against him or any reason to avoid him. I’ve only ever heard brilliant things about him. So how did this happen? Maybe because there was always some other required reading for most of my high school and college years. Maybe because at some point I’d accumulated more books than I could keep up with and had no room for a new author in my life. After a while, I just accepted this shortcoming.
The second confession is that the idea of life on a kibbutz never appealed to me. Though I’ve always considered myself a socialist, or at least prone to socialism, I seemed to have skipped the naïve fascination kibbutz life holds for young Israelis, and headed straight towards cynicism and cringing. I’ve been exposed mostly to art that portrays kibbutz childhoods as traumatic—having to sleep separately from your parents, everyone knowing the details of your life, having not one thing which is entirely your own. Things didn’t look too good for adults, either: conformity was valued and independent thought discouraged. The good of the place, of the community as a concept, was held in higher regard than the well-being of the individuals that made up that community. All of these were elements I felt lucky to have avoided. I’m writing in past tense because this classic idea of a kibbutz is a fading one.
Marek Hlasko’s novel, Killing the Second Dog, is set in Tel Aviv, but it isn’t any Tel Aviv that I know. Not only the years that separate my Israel (I was born there in 1982) from the novel’s newly independent Israel of the early 1950s account for this lack of familiarity. Nor is it the fact that Killing the Second Dog is, essentially, a crime novel. Hlasko’s Tel Aviv is an identity-less city, where a multitude of languages is spoken and a variety of currencies is exchanged. Still overcoming British rule and catering to the many post-war tourists financing its new path, this Israel offers itself up for grabs, trying, in spite of the suffocating heat and the shoddy infrastructure, to constitute as small an interruption as possible.