Sunday, October 10, 2010

Haaretz on "Sodot" (A Minyan of Lovers)

Beside the road I saw two kittens. One jumped between the cars and managed to reach the other side of the road. His brother remained on the traffic island, hurt, his hind legs paralyzed, and was trying courageously to reach a safe place, dragging himself on his front legs.

I stopped the car in the middle of the road. Horns hooted, it was raining, I was late for an important meeting - but the sight of that kitten was wounding my heart.

There are such moments: The world stops its rush for a second, you feel almost suffocated, the stomach hurts. Naked nerves. a sudden need to touch, face pain, feel.

Those are the moments Corinna relays. The heroines of her book, Anna and Siwar, live on the naked nerve, where love and pain interchange continuously:

"What happens to one who continually embraces an iceberg? Whose heart will be first to melt? There is always this longing, call it a yearning." (page 241)

Corinna writes from both inside the body and the body itself - in a way which is so physical and emotion laden that it is hard to believe she's using the language we all know. There is total symbiosis between the writing and the feeling. Corinna creates a kingdom where there is no room for the governing of syntax rules. Most of her sentences are simply coming into being, are present on her own terms. The dialogues are uttered some from her mouth, some from her head, in a whirlpool in which times, speakers, and subjects intermingle, creating words and sentences written with the rhythm of poetry:

"Salim is calling from the village,/and Andrei/ who'd asked,/'It's not hard on you, don't you miss sex?'/'The alternative is much better?'/'Once one man has caused you harm and you punish all men?' asks the interviewer in the newspaper the woman that was victim of rape and has written a book. She's not answering and goes back to her home where she sleeps with a revolver under the mattress." (page 157)

In the same way in which she sheds the rules of prose and mixes them with the association-laden poetic form - Corinna also refuses to accept completely the rules of State and Religion, replacing them with her own morals.

Anna, the heroine, standing before the Rabbis at the divorce ritual, refuses to cover her rebelious shoulders with the offered rag and puts on her own scarf. She's the one sending away the husband and she expresses this not in words but in what is unsaid:

"A man and a woman are splitting apart, they have been together for many years and now must be weaned of so many habits, like when you remove a bunion and it grows right back...
...he says, 'OK, I'll find myself some dump to live in.';
This time she no longer says, 'Stay.';
Puts on a red skirt and appears before three male judges in the religious court. They stand with grave faces behind a tall bench.
None of them laid a warm hand on her belly to feel the foetus move.
Imposing themselves as permit-givers out of their territory.
In hers."
(page 156)

Anna, in a feminine dress, is sexual, attractive, independent and tempting.
Mimmicking men's ways, she counts the males who come to her bed upon her divorce. She's the mother who struggles to protect the son imprisoned in the military cell, attempting to translate his naivety as stemming from hers, to hold on to the similarity between them; trying to give love, warmth and tenderness to the whole world except her own self, which she's not really hugging.

"Dorn, now I know why you looked at me the way a loving, indulged child looks at his mother when I gave you a midnight snack at home. Johanna would stand in front of the refrigerator, protecting it with her body so the children wouldn't take food for their friends. She was frigid. Now she'ss a vegetable. If I had stayed, that would have been my fate too." (page 204)

It's not spelled out if those are the words said to him or that have never been uttered. It's not even important from her point of view since the intensity of her feelings covers all. Her thoughts tear her from deep inside and like water seep to all avalable spaces.

Her fights against laws, her silences, her secrets and decisions, have left her with no room of her own. She stands exposed, withdrawn and above all - exhausted, left with the unsaid and silenced sayings, with thoughts which, if only uttered, might have helped create a bridge between her and the world instead of pain and exposed nerves shrinking away from closeness while longing for it.

"Revelation", the last chapter, is Siwar's journal pages. Yet it is not only the revelation of Reality before Siwar's eyes (her observations of her husband's betrayal, her dependance upon him as a man, father and home, her obedience to society's rules).

The journal is also Anna's revelation, as much as it is Corinna's Manifest on loneliness. A manifest on the inability to reach out and touch, not only a man but also the mother; on pain and oblivion and the shattered option of salvation.

Because, who are we realy saving. when we save a kitten? Are we saving it or is the act pointing to our own self?

"At night when the baby's asleep and Salim's at his meetings, when a hidden pain wells up despite my tiredness, I turn to you, my notebook. The rest of the time, it is I, not you, who am abandoned. I have become a married woman and a mother, like my mother. Not grieving over what my mother did to me any more, but wondering when I get lonely what it was that that man did to her. When I was young I refused to see her when she asked for a meeting. I was thinking while the social worker's muffled blows struck home, isn't it enough that she and her lover murdered her old husband? Who will punish her for her other murder, for the murder of me?

There is a point midway between forgetting and knowledge. I am destined to circle round it, unable to forget, disabled by memory."

(c) all Hebrew rights, except to the quotations: Gal Karniel, Haaretz Book Review, 21.1.03