Friday, March 24, 2023

Books: "The Woman Beyond The Sea" By Sarit Yishai-Levi

The Woman Beyond The Sea

By Sarit Yishai-Levi, translated by Gilah Kahn-Hoffmann

Amazon Crossing; paperback, $16.99: Kindle, $4.99

Sarit Yishai-Levi is a renowned Israeli journalist and author. Her first novel, The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem, was published in 2016, and it immediately became a bestseller and earned critical acclaim. The novel sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Israel, was translated into 17 languages, and was adapted into a television series that won the Israeli TV award for best drama series, and then became a Netflix hit. 

The Woman Beyond The Sea is Yishai-Levi's second novel, and it was published in 2019. It won the Publishers Association's Gold and Platinum prizes and has already been translated into several languages.

Yishai-Levi, who was born in Jerusalem to a Sephardic family that lived in the city for eight generations, said of her second novel in the press release accompanying the book, "The Woman Beyond The Sea is a very personal novel that emerged from longing and pain. But at the same time, it's a book about forgiveness and acceptance and love that conquers all. Gilah's translation is wonderful and I'm excited to bring this story to English readers."

Gilah Kahn-Hoffmann moved from Montreal to Jerusalem after studying theater, literature, and communications at McGill University. She was a feature writer at The Jerusalem Post and a writer at the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma before doing NGO work in East Jerusalem and the developing world. In recent years, she has come full circle as she is immersed in literary translation.

"I felt so much compassion for Sarit's characters," Kahn-Hoffmann said in the book's press release. "I did my best to inhabit their worlds as I endeavored to give voice to Sarit in English. It was a thrilling ride."

The Woman Beyond The Sea is an engaging, beautifully written, multi-generational story that traces the paths of three women who lead entirely separate lives. 

Eliya is a young woman who thinks she has finally found true love with her charismatic and demanding husband, an aspiring novelist. That is, until he abruptly ended their relationship in a Paris cafe, which spurred her suicide attempt.  Lily is Eliya's mother, and she vanishes for long hours each day, leaving Eliya with no idea where she is. The third is a mysterious woman who has abandoned her newborn baby on the doorstep of a convent on a snowy night in Jerusalem.

In attempting to heal herself, Eliya is compelled to piece together the jagged shards of her life and history. The heart-wrenching journey she is on leads her to a profound and unexpected love, renewed family ties, and reconciliation with her orphaned mother, Lily. 

Together, Eliya and Lily embark on a quest to discover the truth  about themselves and Lily's origins. The unknown woman sets their stories in motion one Christmas Eve. Each woman confronts upheavals in her life, and Yishai-Levi ties them all together to strike chords of love, hate, and despair, with chapters told in each of the three voices of the story.

In this excerpt, Yishai-Levi writes in Eliya's voice about returning to Paris to see her husband, "Enveloped in layers of sweaters, a sheepskin coat, and a scarf and hat, I hurried into the warm embrace of the corner cafe, Cafe la Riviere. It was nearly empty, with tiny candles flickering on the tables. Only those overwhelmed by loneliness had ventured into the fierce cold. It was hot in there, a pleasant warmth, just right. I sat at the table by the window, and rather than hang the pile of sweaters, scarf, hat, gloves, and long coat on the hooks by the entrance, as most people did, I piled them on the empty chair behind me.

Even though I was situated in the heart of the Latin Quarter, Cafe la Riviere wasn't the kind of place that attracted the casual tourist. It was a small neighborhood establishment serving unpretentious, traditional French food. I didn't need the menu. I knew exactly what I wanted to order - croque madame, a slice of ham and slice of cheese sandwiched between the two pieces of toast and topped with a poached egg. I also ordered a glass of red wine, which the waiter delivered right away. While the croque madame was being assembled, I settled into my upholstered chair, stared out the window, and asked myself for the thousandth time, What the hell was I doing in Paris again? Why was I sitting in the cafe where my life had been ruined? Why had my legs carried me to the place where my heart had been broken into a thousand pieces? What was I looking for? I already had all the answers. Ari had supplied them fully. He had responded to every one of my questions, sinking the knife into me until it drew blood.

'Better this way,' he'd said at the time. The whole truth on the table, nothing hidden, no lies, no excuses, and no apologies, a direct blow to the face, the heart, the soft underbelly. He didn't love my anymore, he said with icy simplicity. He'd fallen in love with another woman, a petite Parisian with green eyes and chestnut hair. He took care to provide a detailed description, as if I had never met the bitch myself.

She was the reason he'd moved to Paris. That was why he hadn't called me for weeks at a time, claiming he was staying at a cheap hotel that didn't have a phone. She was the reason I could count on one hand the number of times we had slept together during the previous months when he'd returned to Israel. The reason he'd weaned himself of his habit of dropping off to sleep with my nipple in his mouth, had turned his back to me in bed, claiming that he was tired, troubled, wrecked.

Exactly one year ago I'd sat here, facing him, in Cafe la Riviere, the realization trickling into me that the world as I knew it would never be the same. My body seemed to sag, as though the life force were draining from me, and I wondered if that was how it felt to die. I stared at Ari. I didn't really hear his voice, smell his familiar scent of aftershave and cigarettes, didn't even really see this short, lean body or his mane of brown hair or his dark narrow eyes. I only watched his mouth moving. Then he stood up abruptly, leaned over, brushed his lips against my cheeks, tossed some money on the table, and was gone.

I sat frozen in my chair, trying to reconstruct what had landed on my head like hammer blows. He doesn't love me. He loves another woman. A Parisian, fine boned and delicate, with big eyes and a small chest. I had come to Paris to surprise my husband, my love, but in the end, it was he who surprised me."

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