Bookmark: ‘The bubble is a part of Israel’

What interests kids is the new iPod, not the West Bank, says Yael Hedaya, whose recently translated book is an ambitious dissection of contemporary Israeli society.

Eden 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Eden 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If the 496-page heft of Yael Hedaya’s Eden were stripped down to a single theme, what would emerge is an all-pervading sense of fear. Fear permeates the world of its characters, binding and constricting them. Now, Hedaya says that she did not set out to do so consciously; rather, it mirrored the period during which she wrote the book.
“I wrote Eden between 2003 and 2004, during the second intifada,” she explains. “I was the mother of two small children, and pregnant with a third as I finished the book.”
Her thoughts were dominated by fears of the unknown distilled into her own specific circumstances: How could she protect her children and her personal world from the unknown? “There was a lot going on at the time; I remember my kids wanting to go on a train ride to Tel Aviv, but I wouldn’t take them; I’d think twice before going to a mall. The outside life affected my subconscious.”
Eden, published in Hebrew in 2005 and recently translated into English, is Hedaya’s third book following 2001’s Housebroken and Accidents, a National Jewish Book Award finalist in 2006. It is introspective, character-driven fiction, channeling Hedaya’s personal apprehensions into an ambitious dissection of contemporary Israeli society.
Set in a fictional moshav of the same name, Eden’s narrative charts the social and personal challenges of midlife angst. Daphna and Eli are drifting apart, their relationship buckling under the strain of Daphna’s inability to conceive; Mark and Alona, separated but still neighbors, share the care of their two small children – and of Roni, Mark’s rebellious teenage daughter from a previous relationship – and struggle with differing levels of emotional engagement to each other and their offspring.
Nechama, Alona’s mother, casts a malignant shadow over her daughter’s motherhood; and Rueven, an old timer on the moshav, observes the changes around him dyspeptically, while struggling to bridge the gap between himself and his estranged son.
Juxtaposing multiple perspectives, the characters are held together by their fears – fear of change, fear of their failures as parents and partners, fear of what the future holds. Eden, an upscale bolt-hole from the urban rat race, was intended to serve as protection from the intrusions of the outside world, but rather it creates a bubble, stifling and suffocating and liable to rupture at any time.
Hedaya creates a rich emotional tapestry from the overlapping lives of Eden’s principals, exploring thoughts and impulses in precise and exacting detail. The psychic landscape she creates is as significant to the fiction as the geographical apartness of the moshav.
The intifada is scarcely mentioned, yet a sense of apprehension dogs the footsteps of all the characters.
“I think Eden is more than a book about a place. It is a book about being a parent,” Hedaya says. “To my mind, there is a comparison between the outside terror – the bombs and stuff – and the inside terror you feel as a parent, the constant fear and concern and worry.”
But most people hold up parenthood as the most rewarding experience of their lives, one might argue. How does this transmute itself into a terror on par with the physical violence of the period in which the book is set? “Fulfillment comes with parenthood, it is true, but for me parenthood is being in a constant state of terror. Something could happen to your child; something could happen to you.”
Hedaya, disarmingly frank about her own fears as a single mother of three, does not seek to subvert the happy fable of motherhood, one senses. Rather, it is the counternarrative, the awesome and at times overwhelming responsibility of parenthood that is often subsumed, that she seeks to emphasize. She mentions her young daughter, who occasionally experiences night terrors, and talks about sitting by her bed as she tosses and turns in her sleep. “Even my five-year-old has a whole life that I do not know about.”
Hedaya, who lives just outside Jerusalem with her children, is a very acute observer of the unconscious; Eden details in painstaking detail the flotsam and jetsam of unacknowledged thoughts and impulses that coalesce into conscious action. Perhaps unfairly, she has been accused in the past of being a “bubble” writer, one overly concerned with individual life at the expense of the big political questions of the day. In a sense, Eden serves as a riposte to this criticism, with its attempt to synthesize the external world and the interior emotional landscape.
“I’ve been accused of not being politically involved, of not dealing with the big issues – Israel and Palestine, Jews and Arabs, rich and poor, the Holocaust,” she acknowledges. Perhaps she does overly concentrate on the inner lives of people. But this introspection is part of the broader picture, she asserts. “The bubble is a part of Israel, that’s what people don’t realize. In a way, people here are living in a bubble.”
Through her characters, she mirrors a very acute political reality of Israel, one founded on the overwhelming desire for normality, almost at any price.
“We’re not just dealing with the the exterior but we are also very self-centered, like anyone else in the Western world. What interests kids is the new iPod, rather than the West Bank.”
Not that Hedaya thinks herself – or her characters – immune from the reality of everyday life. “People often ask, ‘Why don’t you write about this or about that?’ But a writer cannot be enlisted to write about things on the outside, if it isn’t seeping into my dreams, my subconscious. The greater Israel, the horror, the discrimination, the hopelessness started to trickle into my subconsciousness because I was a mother and because I was more scared. I started to have thoughts: Where am I living? Is this where I want to raise my children?” As it happens, she has no intention of leaving, and talks at length about how attached she is to the country, and how there is “something fascinating and wonderful about this country that I love.” But it doesn’t stop her from being sharply critical of what she terms as the “radicalization” of Israeli society, the polarization between social and religious classes that prompt the creation of artificial bubbles like Eden.
And that’s what worries her; that as people find less and less in common with one another, that the prophylactic barriers that people have constructed to protect themselves from reality will move further apart and segment society irrevocably. “Israel used to be one big happy bubble, but no longer. The bubbles are drifting away from each other, the walls are becoming thicker and thicker.”
And as this happens, people become more divorced from reality. To their own cost.