Eden is one of several novels that my cousin Michal gave me to introduce me to Israeli literature, and it is a grand introduction, a shadowy exposé of lifestyles in a gentrified moshav. The moshav, Eden, is unlike the humble, workaday neighborhood described in Mier Shalev’s My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner. Instead, it’s a genteel outlying haven of older remodeled homes with price tags now beyond the reach of Joe Schmoe and his ilk. It’s the type of place you drive past and think, “Wouldn’t that be nice?” And what Hedaya posits here is that maybe Eden isn’t so nice.
Hedaya has structured the book so that each chapter is narrated by alternating characters, all residents of Eden, in their own stream-of-consciousness. Some of the characters are related or acquainted, others are not, and some will cross paths as the story proceeds. Not much real time elapses in its 486 pages, but as the characters spend considerable energy dwelling on past events, a strong sense of personal and relational history is constructed.
The primary characters hail from two households. Daphna and Eli are a childless couple trying desperately to conceive. Alona and Mark are separated but friendly spouses with a troubled teenage daughter, Roni. When Roni embarks on an affair with Eli, their secret threatens to dismantle any remnant of happiness their families may be currently clinging to.
|A home in a modern moshav|
Eden’s narrative is cerebral. Some characters are oppressively, even self-destructively, analytical. Like a soap opera, the story grows dark and explicit and becomes highly entangled. Eden isn’t all sex and sentiment though. It also addresses the modern political tensions from both liberal and conservative perspectives. But the political ideals prove as illusory as the idyllic moshav lifestyle.
The book I read is a translation from Hebrew, so I can’t authoritatively discuss Hedaya’s narrative style. The English-language version, translated by Jessica Cohen, maintains the Israeli feel that I’m starting to recognize ‒ declarative, opinionated, direct. The text is rich in literal and figurative content. The characterization is distinct, with a clear shift in voice from narrator to narrator. You’ll get a strong grasp of each person, and you’ll have strong opinions about them too. Hedaya also incorporates a book-within-a-book construction which, upon some analysis, can turn up discussion-worthy correlations with the primary plot.
The moshav Eden appears lovely, but sordid secrets lurk there. The book Eden is also full of beauty and darkness. The ending is grim but hopeful, as I like to think of the spirit of Israel ‒ resilient despite the country’s turmoil. Eden is a tumultuous but insightful story, and I’m glad to be among its community of readers.