on April 7, 2013
It is possible to leave aside Honigmann's astonishing biography, even if much of her fiction is a jumble of her own experiences refracted through her own wish for transformation. If you've heard her laughingly recount in German-accented French how her poems were smuggled West in the pantyhose of visiting bohemians, the first of these two stories will take on another glitter. But even if you haven't, there is poetic insight in her wistfulness in recollection of a lover - "Sometimes I wished or was afraid we'd have a child" - or Paris - "Having arrived, I now had to go somewhere, but I'd never thought about the fact that I'd be coming into a big city with wide streets and avenues and districts and that I'd have to decide where I was going to go, and it wouldn't just be a ball of dreams bouncing along in front of me that I'd run after and catch". She writes of specificities - places, plants - but subtly knots the reader in wrenching universals. The second story is less Rilkean and more impetuous, a woman who hasn't the luxury of circumspection and whose world is her children and not her ambitions and memories. But it is a good tale.
In these two short novels, Barbara Honigmann is writing about two women who are looking for a sense of place. Zohara, like the unnamed narrator of A Love Made Out of Nothing, is displaced from her home and is searching for sense and stability.
I found the Zohara novel far more compelling, possibly because its action is far more dramatic, and possibly because of the Jewish religious theme. Part of Zohara's journey involves leaving some of the strictures of Orthodox Judaism as she perceives them. It is certainly understandable that she would do so, given that her image of a strict Orthodox Jew is closely tied to her charlatan husband, Simon.
on April 22, 2004
I hadn't heard about Honigmann until I read that she was awarded the Koret Jewish Book Award prize in fiction for these novellas. After reading them, I must say I whole heartedly agree with the judges. She has a sharp wit and a terrific sense of humor, and her characters stay with you long after you're done reading the book. I really enjoyed these novellas.