This is the sophomore installment in Edeet Ravel’s Tel Aviv trilogy, themed around life in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. Her brilliant first novel in the series, Ten Thousand Lovers, published in 2003, met with terrific international success and garnered Ravel a Governor General’s Award nomination. It was also named one of Q&Q’s top five Canadian fiction titles of the year.
Like that novel, Look for Me is a love story set amidst the chaos and contradiction of war. Both also appear to be semi-autobiographical. A scholar, Ravel was born on a Marxist kibbutz and has divided her time and studies between Montreal and Israel, where she does intensive political peace work.
Dana Hillman, this novel’s protagonist, is a young Israeli woman obsessed with finding her missing husband, Daniel, who disappeared 11 years earlier after being treated for serious burns. Daniel’s injuries were sustained while serving on reserve duty, the irony being that his job was folding laundry.
Once in the army herself, Dana now works at an insurance office and supplements her income by producing Harlequin-style romance novels. But her true passion is for peace work. A talented photographer, she faithfully attends events aimed at stopping the occupation, often putting herself in danger’s path by openly showing solidarity with the Palestinians. But Dana is not unpatriotic. She loves Israel with a fervour equal to her certainty that it has no place in the occupied territories.
Dana lives in an apartment building with a compelling group of misfits, including an ex-prostitute who now reads fortunes, a bitter, legless man questioning his sexuality, an ex-rock star, and a married cab driver who is besotted with Dana. Despite their diverse backgrounds and often conflicted politics, the characters have developed complex inter-dependencies that cause them to float in and out of each others’ worlds.
The army has confirmed Dana’s conviction that Daniel is alive and living somewhere in their tiny country. Every year she runs full-page newspaper ads begging for his return and does interviews with local media to get the word out. Her hitherto unwavering loyalty begins to be cast in doubt when she meets Raffi, a fellow protester who is also married.
Throughout the novel, Ravel moves effortlessly from the larger to the smaller picture, bringing us a fascinating perspective of someone living the politics of one of the world’s most notorious hot spots amidst a daily life of much personal eccentricity. There are shades of The English Patient here, reflected in the role of the burn victim, but also in the theme of love cut short amidst the spectre of war.
Ravel’s pacing is extremely good. The dialogue-driven novel is hard to put down for the most part. Daniel’s disappearance is a mystery into which we are inescapably drawn. We are also driven to ask whether Dana’s irrepressible self-confidence about his willingness to return home is indicative of a tremendous naivete on her part – a romantic idealism at sorry odds with the actual world in which she lives – or will somehow be justified by circumstances that have yet to be revealed.
Sadly, the conclusion, to which the novel rushes with such headlong intensity, does not satisfy. And there are inconsistencies that are hard to accept, such as when Dana, having waited 11 breathless years to see Daniel, risks it all en route to the reunion as she rashly runs out to embrace an unknown Palestinian detained at a checkpoint. Along the way there are sinister warnings delaying Dana’s progress that are simply not borne out by novel’s end. These things are unfortunate because there is much beauty and wisdom in this brave and passionate, but ultimately not great novel.