Hebrew Fiction / That Thing Called Love

The story of Kinneret and Nuri gives rise to two universal human concerns: What causes people to choose their own well-being at the expense of the well-being of those they love, and what, if anything, does past experience teach us about choices of this sort?

Elef Shanim Lehakot (One Thousand Years to Wait), by Maya Tevet Dayan
Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan (Hebrew), 366 pages, NIS 89

"Love is space and time measured by the heart," said Marcel Proust. Loving hearts beat in a unique rhythm in a secret, boundless space reserved solely for them, a parallel universe where the laws of physics do not apply. Lovers create rules of their own, sprout wings and challenge the confines of morality, aging and death. It seems nothing will stand in the way of their longed-for union and the mutual enchantment will be immeasurably stronger than anything ordained by values or any natural process. But indeed, is this so?

Kinneret and Nuri, the main characters of "One Thousand Years to Wait," meet in the course of their welfare work in India. She is a single woman of 28 and he is 40, married and the father of two children, and their life trajectories are constantly out of sync; as implied by their names, she represents water and he represents fire ("nuri" comes from the Aramaic word for "flame" ). The spark that ignites between them quickly blazes into a powerful and mysterious love, replete with a sense of familiarity and timelessness, as if it were a continuation of previous incarnations in which they had met and lived together. The leitmotif of fate, in the spirit of the Hindu tradition, runs like a silken thread through the fabric of the sensual story and the legends of the Hindu gods and goddesses delicately depicted. "Kinneret said to him, and maybe I'll be the sign familiar to you in the night, and Nuri said, maybe, but in the meantime you are still the desert where I get lost."

The choice of themes in this debut novel is not arbitrary. Maya Tevet Dayan is a lecturer in the East Asian studies department of Tel Aviv University; she wrote her doctoral dissertation about the goddess of inspiration in Indian poetry. She also writes the Hebrew-language blog Avodat Elilim (Idol Worship ), where she discusses issues and posts photographs and articles related to India.

Depression and joy

The lovers begin to meet in secret. They correspond, texting each other messages of passion and longing as they carefully plan for a future together. Their relationship is intoxicating, and at the same time tainted with feelings of guilt, frustration and doubt. They travel to India, where Kinneret had traveled and studied, and a month later they return to Israel, having decided to part; Nuri is unable to break up his family and Kinneret is not prepared to wait any longer. In her sadness, she flees to the kibbutz where she and her sister grew up in their grandparents' home, during the years her scientist parents were working abroad.

Later, Kinneret finds another man, with whom she lives in the Galilee for a while. After they break up, she returns to Tel Aviv and marries a devoted and wealthy man named Amnon, with whom she buys an apartment and has a daughter, Shlomzion. Six years have passed since her last meeting with Nuri, but her love for him refuses to wane. She thinks about him and dreams about him. She feels him. She discovers hidden signs of his presence in her life.

Nuri, who has divorced in the interim, renews the affair. And again the two experience emotional turmoil, full of moments of depression and joy. Now that Nuri is free and eager to formalize the relationship with his beloved, Kinneret has become someone else's wife and the mother of someone else's child. The unfortunate timing works against them. Kinneret's grandparents' kibbutz, where she spends time with her daughter when Amnon is abroad, and which she sees as a refuge that is supposed to protect and soothe her, and somehow provide an answer to her dilemma, is facing the thorny prospect of privatization. Rather than offering solace, the kibbutz is full of strife; the debate over whether to privatize is dividing kibbutz members, and such a change in kibbutz life casts doubt on the founding principles of the pioneering generation that Kinneret's family holds dear.

Instead of taking a break from city life, then, Kinneret seeks insight by turning to her memories, to heart-to-heart talks and to her grandmother's letters to the boyfriend of her own youth (which were returned to her by the man's wife after his death ). And a mournful philosophical question steals into the reader's heart: Is everything subject to privatization - even love?

On the face of it, "One Thousand Years to Wait" might come across as a lyrically written romance with elements of ritual and narcissism, some overly sentimental weak points, and writing overly laden with adjectives. Nonetheless, the author comes out ahead by confronting readers with a series of serious philosophical conundrums and questions about values: What is time? What is love? What is a relationship? What are devotion, betrayal and sacrifice?

Above all, the story of Kinneret and Nuri gives rise to two universal human concerns: What causes people to choose their own well-being at the expense of the well-being of those they love, and what, if anything, does the experience of the past teach us about choices of this sort?

Wars and other life-and-death situations have always provided fertile ground for moral dilemmas and conflicts between conscience and utility. But what happens when the dilemma hatches amid serenity, and two lovers must choose whether to share their when this means breaking up a family? Will the voice of conscience be sufficient to withstand the passionate urge consuming them? The story invites readers to agonize over this together with the characters. The solutions are painful and of manifold significance, just like Kinneret's and Nuri's emotions.

The plot moves back and forth in space and time with ease, and the picturesque language soars poetically, especially in the letters and poems written by the two lovers (indeed, Plato says that love makes everyone a poet ). The light touches of humor, particularly the characters' sense of self-irony, temper the lyrical, swirling flights of language and add the spice of healthy earthiness. Duality of body and soul, family, ideals, free will and choice - all these concepts are offered up for minute and courageous examination, even as the lush array of flavors, smells and colors arouses a childish joy that counters the sadness of the story itself.

In the ongoing deluge of new titles, it is nice to find a fresh and promising voice. More good things are to be expected from Maya Tevet Dayan.

Rivka Keren is the author of the novel "Hefkerut" ("Outrage" ), published by Agam Books.