Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s debut, One Night, Markovitch, is set during one of the more controversial periods of the 20th century – the transition from the British Mandate in Palestine to the state of Israel – but it treats history as a series of thunderous whims and passionate attachments. It’s the sort of book where the feelings of native Arabs towards their homeland are understood through reference to a character’s own romantic yearning – ‘Just as he would smell Sonya’s orange scent wherever he went, these people would smell the oranges, the citrus fruits and olives and grapevines that had been theirs, for generations to come.’
Settlers Yaacov Markovitch and Zeev Feinberg are recruited into a scheme where young Jewish bachelors help young Jewish women escape from Nazi-dominated Poland or Germany by marrying them and bringing them back to Palestine. The idea is that the couples will then divorce upon arrival. Markovitch, however, by nature a cautious, unremarkable chap, married, through luck of the draw, to the beautiful Bella Zeigerman, refuses to grant her a divorce, and the book follows the legacy of this and other decisions that seem to span both human strength and frailty.
Gundar-Goshen has a beguiling tone, a benevolent irony well captured by Sondra Silverston, who translated this from the Hebrew. ‘Zeev Feinberg was, first of all, a mustache.’ It is partly the lilt of the rabbinical folk tale, and partly the wry omniscience of the magic realist, the flip side of