Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven, translated literature

Winner of the Sapir Award for Literature and the "2010 Best Translated Book Award" by
Three Percent, a literary translation organization.

Noa Weber is a wealthy, single woman who late in life decides to write her memoirs. She’s been a single mother and a successful novelist, but her life is most marked by her obsession with a Russian Jew named Alek. Their relationship is filled with complications and at many times is completely one sided on her part: Alek has a full life without her. Noa’s life experience is more complex than most. Her attempt to recall her past motivations and experiences is problematic: “There’s a kind of lie in this linear writing which does not encompass all the details” she explains.

The novel reverses from her past to present in varying chunks, not always in chronological order. The events of her life are complicated by the social and political situation in Israel, and events in Russia as well. She is an atheist while her daughter is an observing Jew. Her mysterious relationship with her daughter is a sideline that adds to her complications and also makes the reader ask questions if this, in fact, is part of her “confession”.

The novel is beautifully written in an unanticipated way. She focuses only on relevant details to her story, so it proceeds at a quick clip that makes her seem self-absorbed. At times I found myself disliking Noa entirely, as she seemed so obsessively involved with Alek that she was completely heartless with everyone else, even to the point of neglect. She knows that too. His emotional and physical distancing from her doesn’t shake her: she is hooked: “Perhaps it is not him whom my soul loves that I am seeking, but simply my soul.” Yet her candor exposes more of her than might be shown if she presented herself as a more likable figure. In other words, her honesty is painful and risky. It’s as if she truly is in a confessional booth, stating her sins and but refusing absolution. And that dichotomy is what makes the novel so fascinating.

For example, she is remembering Alek and points to the weather as being the trigger for her memories: the smell of the rain, the warm wind, the “sight of the softened light refracted from the stone”. But she catches herself in her recounting, and in an aside, remarks “what did I just say? The warm wind and the softened light refracted from the stone in my longing? In the last analysis that’s romantic bullshit too. Setting the feeling in the ‘softened light of refracted from the stone’ to make it more photogenic. I loved Alek under the ugly neon of the hospital too, and in all kinds of other lights that can’t be poeticized.” She counters her memories in other reflections that alternate with humor and bitterness.

Thus the novel is unique and compelling because of Noa’s narrative voice. Never predictable and never easy, but worthy of the time and patience to find the truth between her memories and her reality.

This fiction novel was translated from Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. 
Special thanks to Megan at Melville House for this Review Copy. 


  1. oh wow! what a fantastic review! sounds like a beautiful book that we can probably all find pieces of ourselves in at some point if we're really honest. Those times in a relationship when we lose our souls...

  2. I have finished my Scandinavian Reading Challenge.

    Scandinavian Reading Challenge 2010
    1. Camilla Läckberg, Tyskungen (Swedish, 2007)
    2. Kaaberbøl & Friis, Drengen i kufferten (Danish, crime debut 2008)
    3. Anna Grue, Judaskysset (Danish, 2008)
    4. Karin Fossum, Den onde vilje (Norwegian, 2009)
    5. Camilla Ceder, Frosne øjeblikke (Swedish debut, 2009)
    6. Knut Faldbakken, Grænsen (Norwegian, 2008)

    You can find links to the six reviews here: