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The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Father's Lives
By Sharon Muir
A black and white photo from Pessah 1948 opens Sharona Muir's desperate quest to know her father. He was a man who rarely showed his feelings, harbored many secrets and ultimately left his daughter with an emotional void.
In her compelling memoir, The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Father's Lives, Muir travels to Israel to uncover her father's past following his untimely death. Through exchanges with his friends, she struggles to understand his world, and most importantly, find proof of his love for her.
Muir's father, Isaac Bentov, was a member of Hemmed (an acronym for the Science Corps) in 1948. This ensemble of scientists was turned into an official army corps by David Ben-Gurion one month before Israel announced its statehood. But it was Hemmed's ideology that served as the motivation for its work - "like the pioneers who broke rocks for the roads and felt they were building the Land." At a time when the British forbade Jews to possess weapons, Hemmed rushed to invent new ones.
But Muir discovers that Hemmed's work, and the inventiveness of her father in particular, was grounded in something other than weapon-making.
It "began with inventing new selves... from a generation whose roots of belongings were erased." Bentov barely escaped from a death camp in Prague before making his way to Israel and reinventing himself.
After the British left in May 1948, Egypt attacked. Without blueprints or sufficient supplies, Hemmed rushed to invent experimental weapons to stop Egyptian tanks. They built the Loretta and the Hollow Charge. Mounted on a jeep, the Loretta (named for Loretta Young) was a gun made to shoot the Hollow Charge and stop military vehicles. During this dangerous and heroic time, Bentov made another important contribution - he created the first Israeli rocket.
Prior to Bentov's death, Muir knew nothing of her father's military inventions. She grew up in Boston as the only child of divorced parents. She cherished her father's weekend visits, which often consisted of academic discussions. Despite her precocious and clever nature, Muir never felt her father's approval. When Bentov died in a 1979 plane crash, Muir sought to understand the man who had so eluded her.
CHANCE LED Muir to Bentov's first home in Israel, Kibbutz Shoval. Located in a remote part of the Negev, the kibbutz is still home to Bentov's first wife, Ziva. When Ziva confides that even she had questioned Bentov's love, Muir realizes that she is not alone in looking for her father's affections. Later, Aia, the mother of the kibbutz, identifies another of Muir's needs - a desire to belong. Aia's declaration that "no one should be alone in the world," causes Muir to let go of a lifetime of loneliness and embrace her father's world.
Muir continues to piece together her father's life as she questions former Hemmed members.
"When I walked out of Russia with my friend and our dogs, we came to a clearing, a bald hill in the forest," confides Gur, a former member. "The sky was overhead, the forest around. We had to choose, on that hilltop, what direction to take, any direction except back. Suddenly I was no one."
Muir thinks about her father: "As a boy he'd been outlawed, and had fled the fascist state. As a young man on the kibbutz, he'd been the oddballâ€¦ In Hemmed, he'd been the bright mechanic without a college degreeâ€¦"
The answer to Isaac Bentov's identity becomes clear. Like many of his generation, her father was a "No One" - and so is his daughter.
While Muir's father lived most of his life as a nobody, America offered the opportunity to be somebody.
"He fit here, in the New Age," writes Muir, as her father achieved praise and notoriety for his ideas. Later, Bentov also invented medical equipment such as the cardiac catheter still used today.
As a Princeton and Stanford graduate, an author of a collection of poems (During Ceasefire) and an associate professor of creative writing at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Muir is an accomplished woman. Yet only through entering her father's world and remembering the "love in [his] voice [that is hers] to keep" does she become a "someone," too.