Hebrew Fiction / Seeing Voices

In a powerfully moving novel, a psychologist writer imagines a psychologist character who creates a hybrid therapy that helps patients get in touch with their inner spirits.

Sefer Hakolot


(The Book of Voices), by Oded Mevorach, Even Hoshen (Hebrew), 370 pages, NIS 84

Voice accompanies our lives like a shadow trailing a body. We are first aware of sounds and syllables, and then the complete statements that enable, over time, the verbal expression of our individuality and of our place in the complex and changing world. Beginning with the newborn's cry and ending with puzzling whispers and last murmurs on dying lips, voice plays a large role in the physical and spiritual dimensions of life. Voice heats things up and calms them down, fights and makes up, reveals and conceals, depresses and elevates, and as thought, it branches out and represents contradictory positions of the different parts of our personalities.

What makes voice such a powerful factor? Myths, religious texts and philosophical and psychological theories are filled with connections between nations and the voices of gods, prophets, kings, priests, cardinals and popes, and between individuals and the private voices of urges, impulses, conscience and morality within. These latter voices, conducting a ceaseless dialogue through the electrical signals that transfer information from one nerve cell to another, these amazing neurological voices called thoughts, are the heroes of this book by Dr. Oded Mevorach, a clinical psychologist. Their content is not voiced aloud or written in any libretto; only the symphony of the brain and the choir of the soul play and sing them in a silent, marathon concert.

"The Book of Voices" spreads its net wide to integrate the personal story of the protagonist, Amos (like the author, a psychologist ), with a range of therapeutic approaches: the psychodynamic theories of Freud, Jung, Adler and their followers, who collectively laid the foundations of the world of the soul, that is, the world of hidden voices, as a legitimate field of research and treatment.

The basic building blocks of these theories, concepts such as id, ego, super-ego, persona, the dark side, anima and animus, the collective and archetypal subconscious, individualism and free choice, have entered the public lexicon. At the same time, and in continuation of the psychodynamic school, humane and existential treatments have been developed that focus on the uniqueness of the individual and the potential embodied in that uniqueness. Couples and group therapy; bibliotherapy; movement, art and role-play therapy - all of these became useful tools. At the other end of the spectrum, behavioral-cognitive methods also flourished, by which mental problems were treated by aiming at specific points, accompanied by conditioning exercises to change thought patterns.

Experiencing death in full

The book opens with a powerful chapter set in a hospice. The aim of the hospice is, according to its deputy director, "to allow patients to experience their death in full." "Consciousness of death," he continues, "is what makes us human and raises our awareness that we should not waste our lives. One must listen carefully to the voice of death. It will help us find what is unique in us and in others, and in our encounter with them."

The frayed edges of existence about to end and the unruly joie de vivre of staff members meeting after hours, arouse both revulsion and joy in Amos, and at the end of a stint of seven months of volunteer work at the hospice, he has a hard time returning to the routine of his private clinic. He often thinks about the patients he encountered: the elderly woman who begged to live just a little longer; the older homosexual who learned that "the great fear of death draws its power mainly from the isolation it brings"; and the 80-year-old Dutch sexologist who said, "Death is the source of life; let us go to the source."

Amos sinks into a depression that has the effect of being spiritually elevating: He considers his private life - his wife, children, friends, dreams and disappointments - and calls on readers to be partners in his journey.

After the near-total experience of the chapter on the hospice, which plunges readers into a whirlpool of existential issues and a meditation on the meaning of life, it seems that there is nowhere else the book can go, and that it must be at a dead end. And so there is something surprising and quite admirable about the way the author is able to broaden his sights in the remaining chapters, exposing readers to the hidden recesses of the therapist's and patients' hearts, as if to say: There is also life after death.

Amos decides to develop "a new therapeutic technique for channeling the spirit, as an alternative to the medication of mood problems." From here on in, a fascinating saga with many participants begins, in which voices take center stage: those signs of internal struggle with anxiety and desire found in all of us. The voices that represent different elements of personality conduct an intensive inner dialogue among themselves: good and bad voices, voices of love and hate, measured or hurried, and long, tense dialogues of voices for and against a particular issue.

The chapters, each of which presents the story of a different patient, encounter each other at various junctions, and involve the therapist's life too. Readers are invited into Amos's office and mind, to witness the exchanges, the turmoil, and the successes and failures of his innovative method, which combines psychodynamic schools: in the treatment of post-rape trauma, manic depression, split personality, obesity, schizophrenia, phobias, deviance, problems of couples and problems with sexual identity, as well as family-wide issues. While readers are immersed in the tormented and driven world of patients, Amos's world of voices is also revealed to them, as in a Bach counterpoint, conducting its own dialogue with that of his patients. Amos is unpretentious and does not hide his fears, weaknesses and desires. The divided voices that he draws from his patients blend into his own, and their insights enable him to project onto his own life, to deal with his own personality defects and errors, and to come to far-reaching conclusions. To one of his patients, Amos says in an apparent statement of his own personal worldview: "One doesn't need to make a big deal of awareness, of childhood, of insight and psychological theories. The main difficulty is making a real change and self-acceptance."

In "The Book of Voices," the first book by Mevorach, who also happens to be a carpenter, diver and veteran backpacker, the author manages to convincingly portray the advantages and limitations of the use of a multitude of voices as a therapeutic tool. He does not attempt to overwhelm us with success stories or cover up shortcomings in certain situations. Nor does he hide Amos' personality defects and his faults as a therapist and family man. This honesty strengthens the reading experience; the direct prose is sensitive, but not sentimental, and it is free of flattery, although here and there the story tends toward minor melodrama.

This is a book for lovers of literature and professionals at the same time. The author deserves special praise for refraining from cliches and painful jargon. I would also like to note, and this is not to be taken for granted, that the book deals with humanity's dark, tormented and wounded places in a sympathetic and positive spirit.

Rivka Keren is an author and psychologist. Her book "Hefkerut" ("Outrage" ) was published by Agam Press.