“A Late Divorce”, by A.B. Yehoshua, is a novel that was translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Halkin. The story line revolves around Yehuda and his wife Naomi.
Yehuda has traveled back to Israel from America, in order to obtain a divorce from his wife, Naomi. Here is where the tour-de-force begins. “A Late Divorce”, in my opinion, has a dual purpose, and is a true tour-de-force novel with its story lines regarding family dynamics, within the tapestry of the State of Israel, a country whose own threads encompass its own state of being, culturally, emotionally, physically and geographically. Obtaining the divorce requires strength, and is no easy feat for Yehuda, and his determination has thrown his family members into a state of emotional turmoil.
The book takes place over a period of nine days that lead up to the Passover celebration. Each day (a chapter in the book) is devoted to one family member’s perspective, not only on the divorce, but family life in general, and how they remember Yehuda’s time spent with them. Yehosua is masterful in his ability to get inside the human mind, and see life through nine family members, each bringing a different analysis to the current familial situation.
For some, the situation is unbearable, and for others, daily verbal assaults and torture is a way of life, thinly disguised as joking. We have the character of Gaddi on Sunday, a seven-year old, and grandson of Yehuda. We are privvy to his thoughts within his racing mind, and Yehoshua is ingenious in the way he presents Gaddi, unarticulated, fast talking, thoughts running from one subject to the next. Yet, within his immaturity, we also see a Gaddi who seems persceptive, and a child who exhibits emotions turned inward.
Monday brings us Yisra’el Kedmi, Yehuda’s son-in-law, married to Ya’el. He is called Kedmi, as he feels one Israel is enough. Kedmi is more of an “out-law” than an in-law. He is the “jokester”, the one who demonstrates passive-aggressive behavior through his obnoxious and snide remarks. Yet, he might just be the sanest of the bunch.
Tuesday is Dina’s day. She is Asi’s wife, and Asi is the son of Yehuda. She is an only child of Hungarian parents, who are Hasidic Jews, who are constantly at her for not having children, yet. Dina is an aspiring writer. Her writing is her family, each page is like one of her children.
Wednesday is Asi’s voice, one that is told in an environment of sadness. Asi has a passion for 19th century terrorists, and he lectures at the university. He has a compulsion that is harmful to him, and it began when he was a child. Asi acts superior to his wife, Dina, and treats her as if she is a child. He has yet to fulfill his marriage bed.
Thursday we hear a one-sided conversation that Refa’el Calderon has with Tsvi. Tsvi is Yehuda’s son, and Refa’el is Tsvi’s current lover. Not only is the conversation one-sided, but so is the relationship, as Tsvi treats Refa’el with extreme disrespect. Refa’el is of Sephardic Jewish heritage.
Friday is the day that Tsvi meets with is therapist, right before Shabbat evening prayer service begins. He is an extremely manipulative person, and is always looking for an easy and quick way to make money, even if it is at another’s expense. He lives in Tel Aviv.
Saturday is not only the Sabbath, but is a day that takes place three years into the future. We are seeing the day through Ya’el’s mind and eyes, as she tries to focus on the past and remember what events occurred. What tragic incident happened that has caused her to block her memory of the day. Ya’el has been the quiet force in the family, always trying to please. Also, in this chapter we are introduced to Connie, who was Yehuda’s bride-to-be, and their son. In this chapter we realize what the ending to the story will be.
Sunday is the day of the Passover Seder, and we meet Naomi, Yehuda’s wife. She has been confined to a mental hospital ever since she stabbed Yehuda. She has been labeled as crazy, although I am not so sure that she is. She has many coherent and cognizant moments, more than other family members.
Monday is Yehuda’s story, his memories and perspectives. We begin to see the overall picture in this chapter more clearly. And, we realize who is manipulative, and who is trying to drive the other to madness. The greed and guilt combine, bringing out emotions that were harbored and festered to a crescendo of an ending.
The stories within the chapters of “A Late Divorce” are a metaphor for dysfunctional family relationships and interactions, and a metaphor for the daily lives and dynamics that make up the fabric of Israel’s very core. We see the comparison through Yehoshua’s characters. “A Late Divorce” is a story of sadness and humor, both, yet the sadness is dominant, as each family member tries to heal the family as a unit, as a whole, and put it back together, failing in their endeavors. There is never peace, in any situation, and each family member is constantly on guard, often on guard for the unknown and unseen, as if awaiting disaster. Each voice is a thread in the fabric of the whole, the complete tapestry is told with the incomparable voice and brilliance of A.B. Yehoshua. He is masterful in his word visuals, and brings incredible insight into the human mind and emotions, blending both in a concise and astute vision of both family and the State of Israel.
I personally own and have read this book.