Friday, March 29, 2019

All the Rivers, a Novel by Dorit Rabinyan

I haven't read in a very long time such a heartbreaking beautiful love story, that breaks you into little pieces and makes you feel the pain and the regret for all your love stories that you forgot about only because you were so blind to hope there will be a happy ending. For the waste of every single moment of togetherness because social conventions and sometimes political projections forced you to overthink and refuse being taken by the unique flow of every single second you are together with someone because he is there and nothing else should matter.
All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan is a book that obsessively makes you reflect about your love and lovers and the chances you took or were too coward to assume. About being different but equal in love, about the time you wasted thinking about 'why' obligerating the 'now'. 
The love story between the Israeli Liat and the Palestinian Hilmi is just happening, within a given amount of time, in New York City. They met, fell in love and parted ways to never met in life again. Hilmi drowned on Jaffa beach and never had the chance to talk with Liat again. While in New York, they both long for a home that might mean different for each of them, but in many respect is so similar. 'Everything around us was iron and concrete, asphalt roads and stone huls, but we were rhapsodizing about olive trees'. 'The similarity between us, that shared destiny, must be what they mean when they say that man is imprinted by his native landscape'.
Inevitably, there are rifts and conflicts and political interpretations and 'me' versus 'you'. Liat is so annyoing sometimes for not being brave enough and breaking up with her past, present and future and making the dramatic choice for love. Between her and Halmi there is the political wall who says it is not socially acceptable and her past weights into her present. There is passion after all and this shall also pass because how else would we survive as a people otherwise. Making painful choices and leaving the intensity of the moments behind. It is a moral and social and even political obligations to move on the beaten paths of life. She will give up sharing with her sister about him. 'So, I don't tell her how we enjoy making each other laugh. I don't tell her that I spend all the day gatheirng sotries to share with him the evening, so I can hear him laugh, so I can laugh again with him. I don't tell her about the moments when I can feel that he understands me, that he can make his way in and out of my mind's twists and turns, that can look at his wise eyes and see the wheel of his mind spinning in perfect synchrony with comfort that fills me in those moments when we talk and talk and talk, I feel that if I had been a sort of enigma to myself, a difficult ride to solve, he has come along to know me and to answer all my questions'.
But the intensity of the moment is what makes the life alive, gives a sense and a direction, even not always a clear one. Liat and Hilmi are part of those sad impossible love stories, but until there is an ending, it is what happens right now and then that counts. 'The the grimy mirror, I see pedestrians and cars reflected, and suddenly something happens, a flash that vanishes so quickly that Hilmi doesn't catch it. For a moment our two reflections are doubled, multiplying and procreating endlessly, drawing an infinite chain of more and more Hilmi and Liat behind us'. 
The book created a fierce political debate in Israel. Banned from the high-school curricula in 2003, the author herself was the target of the righ-wing Lehava fighting against relationships between Jews and non-Jews. Rabinyan, whose novel was inspired by her own love story with the Palestinian artist Hassan Hourani that died tragically in 2003, was supported by the most important Israeli writers of the time like Amos Oz, David Grossman, A.B.Yehoshua or Meir Shalev and received a letter of support from the German chancellor Angela Merkel. 
I didn't know what exactly to expect from this book and was a bit reluctant following all the political and ideological fuss made around it that it might be a pro-domo story, with clear lessons learned and a rather political, non-literary message. I am so glad I was wrong and so happy to go through all the painful reflections about love and relationships, about what matter and what shall never matter in love. In many of her interviews, Rabinyan mentioned a quote from the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas according to whom 'we can redeem our humanity by not just caring about our own perspective but by seeing details of the other individual in the mass of humans'. In reality, it seldom works and there is such a painful and long process, sometimes that takes longer than to build the love. But even if love is gone, being able to see this human light is one of the greatest life's achievements which open the doors to a life of authenticity. We are more than our borders, religions and habits but we are also creatures of habit and the struggle to overcome our little humanity is hard and painful.
The English translation of the book is beautiful and knits together the words and worlds. It makes you shiver and cry and brings your smile back to your face again, because maybe you can do it too, one day. Or at least to hope to acknowledge the very simple yet painful fact that love is love is love. What matters, as usual in our short life is to focus on the moment and live its intensity in its fullest. That's all what lasts, after all, 'all the rivers run to the sea'.

Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Rating: 5 stars

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