News from the Book Discussion Group

By Naidia Woolf
Last Sunday we met to discuss our latest book selection: “A Man, a Woman, and a Man” by popular Israeli author, Savyon Liebrecht, known and acclaimed for her short stories, this novel represents Liebrecht’s first full-length work.
Initially the title of this month’s book selection – “A Man, a Woman, and a Man” – suggested the romantic triangle found in many novels (or even a ménage a trois, to quote the incurably romantic French!). However, after reading the first few chapters you realize that the storyline has an unusual “twist.”  To briefly summarize the plot: The female protagonist, whose first name is Hamutal (you never learn her married – or maiden name), is a professional woman in her forties who lived in Tel Aviv, is married with two teenage daughters.  Immediately we realize that the marriage has gone sour, although we never learn exactly why; for me, one of several weaknesses in the novel.  Also the older of the two daughters seems to resent her mother and favor her father. Again, you never learn why (another weakness) and are left wondering whether it’s simply because her mother is too preoccupied with her job or spending too much time visiting her mother in the hospital (who is now frail and suffering from Alzheimer’s) even though they have never been close.  Which leaves you to wonder: Does Hamutal’s older daughter resent her own mother for the same reason?  Like mother, like daughter?
You learn that Hamutal’s mother had been a busy clinician who had been an overly judgmental (sometimes neglectful) parent so that her daughter always felt unloved.
While visiting the hospital, Hamutal meets a man who, like her, is visiting his aging parent, in his case, father (once an incorrigible womanizer). The man, “Saul,” who was born and grew up in Israel, now lives in in the US (Chicago) and has a wife and children “back home.” (We never learn anything about his “other life” – for me, yet another novelistic flaw.).  Soon the couple embarks on a passionate affair which becomes more intense after Hamutal’s husband and daughters leave town for a few days.  (While they are away you wonder whether the husband begins to suspect his wife is having an affair because she’s rarely at home when he telephones.  That, and the couple’s partial reconciliation towards the end of the novel, are never explained or fully justified.
Most of us considered “A Man, and Woman, and A Man” a well-written novel, especially the passages describing the protagonist’s mother’s dementia and the still fraught relationship between mother and daughter.  The consensus was that the author most likely had experienced first-hand trying to cope with an aging and increasingly frail parent and struggling to let go of past differences or resentments before it was too late.
Hamutal edits a magazine that specialized in dream analysis. Consequently many of the chapters include one of the dreams which tend to foretell what is to transpire, next.  There was considerable discussion over the dream in the final chapter in which the protagonist imagines herself on a swing in a deserted playground, becoming smaller and smaller until she is a small child then about to disappear, then growing bigger and bigger until she is adult size again: an obvious parallel to Alice after she fell down the rabbit hole and found herself in the underworld.  Hamutal’s dream character is confronted by a scarecrow (whom I interpreted to be death) telling her to stop giving her name and to “just live.” Which we all interpreted to mean: stop being so self-serving. Become more aware of other people and their needs, and, by extension, work on rebuilding your relationships.
Some of us couldn’t understand the protagonist’s obsession with the married man from Chicago and why she had a hard time reconciling herself to the fact that their relationship had no future (was transitional, temporary) and accept it for what it was: no more, no less.   I think that individuals who have been embroiled in those kinds of relationships could empathize with her unwillingness to let go.
The B’nai Emunah Book Discussion Group meets every 4-6 weeks, usually at someone’s home. Books chosen may be either fiction or non-fiction but must be either (1) by a Jewish author and/or (2) have a Jewish theme. New members are always welcome.  And we are always open to suggestions re new (or old, classic) books to read, explore, and discuss!

About Gabriele Lange

Multi Media Consultant in SF Bay Area WebDesign at City College 2008-2011 Professional Photographer since 1998 Lived in Berlin, Germany between 1987-1994
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