Jerusalem born Eshkol Nevo’s first novel Homesick takes place in Castel, a hilltop village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and is ostensibly about Nova, a budding Photography student and her psychologist in the making boyfriend Amir. They move into a little apartment separated from their landlords Moshe Zakian and Sima by just a thin wall. Then there is Yutam, the young boy who befriends Amir, even as he deals with the death of his brother in the war in Lebanon and his parents inability to cope with the tragedy. Saddiq is a Palestinian refugee whose family lived in the Zakian home until 1948, and who lives in an unnamed West Bank village but wants to return to his old house and reclaim what is his. Modi is Amir’s friends a wanderlust whose adventure filled life entices Amir , but who finally does pine for home.
This skillfully written book reads like an art move, a beautifully made art movie. Slow paced yet powerful , Nevo develops each of his characters with such detail that I felt I knew them all. Set against the historical backdrop of the Rabin assassination, Nevo manages to weave a terrific tale of friendship,nostalgia and longing. There is nothing very political about the novel yet the bombings, the state of the Israeli Palestinian conflict all give an underlying sense of gloom that pervades the novel. The reader is constantly aware of the state of permanent war that around them and the And more than the political struggles, it is the struggles of the heart that the novel deals with.
While not obviously tragic or sad, a sense of fore brooding hangs over the novel, like a dark cloud. When Noa and Amir first go to view their apartment , by accidentally enter the house of mourning of a family of a young soldier killed in Lebanon.The tension out in the world slowly seeps into the lives of the unmarried young couple as domestic drudgery threatens to pull them apart. Moshe and Simi too face their share of problems. Moshe, a bus driver in his 30s, longs to raise his children in a religious set u plike his older brother unlike his wife Simi who wants a secular upbringing for her children. This leads to friction in their until now peaceful marriage. The friend ship that develops between Yotam and Amir is beautifully etched as is the scene when Yotam’s family leave for Australia to make a new home and start afresh.
In all it is a beautifully scripted novel. But don’t expect it to be an easy , light read. The books narrative was mostly of inner monologue and sometimes moved between characters thoughts so smoothly that I was always on the look out for clues as to whose thoughts they were. A very compelling book and a fantastic first novel.