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by Savyon Liebrecht
Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston
Reviewed by Kathleen Ambrogi

"People who don't have much of a present inflate the past. The easiest thing is to choose the memories you want. The easiest and the stupidest."

So says Aharon, the father that Meir lost for 23 years.

At the age of seven, Meir left his father in Tel Aviv to join his mother in the United States. Straightaway he was told that his father had died. At that moment, all memories of his first seven years died, too.

By the time Meir reaches the age of thirty, he has written and published one successful book, but finds he is able to build stories only on the experiences of others. He reaches a dead end as a writer when he realizes that he has lost more than his early memories; he's apparently lost the ability to make new ones, as well. His life is best compared to the pieces of paper he can no longer fill with words: cool, blank, featureless, emotionless. He cannot build a relationship with his mother or any other woman he meets.

Then he discovers that his father is not, after all, dead, but is alive and wishes to see him. Meir's trip back to Tel Aviv is a trip into a past that is both compelling and terrifying.

Bit by bit as the story progresses, his strange childhood comes to life in his mind. He and his father, an unemployed poet, were vagabonds without resources or property after Meir's mother abandoned them and returned home to the US. The father visited cafes, rubbed shoulders with the literati, and exercised an unusual skill for charming women. Chief among Meir's memories are these women—some of them surrogate mothers—who gave the homeless pair a place to sleep and his father a bed to share.

In time, Meir begins to match the foggy perceptions of childhood with the sharper clarity of adult knowledge. There are mysteries to be solved and hidden truths to be revealed. The journey is painful, edged with bitterness and longing, but Meir may find salvation by piecing together the scraps of his shredded life, and letting them go.

Savyon Liebrecht has done a masterful job of evoking these characters, in particular the two men: one who loves women and one who fears them. She has surrounded the two with a complex web of fascinating women: beautiful women, angry women, madwomen and murderers. The women who shaped and destroyed Meir's father's life are the same ones who haunt Meir, and may in fact haunt the reader long after the last page of this book has been turned.