cover image Two She-Bears

Two She-Bears

Meir Shalev, trans. from the Hebrew by Stuart Schoffman. Schocken, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8052-4329-1

A versatile writer of fiction, memoir, biblical studies, and children’s stories, Shalev (A Pigeon and a Boy) delivers a stunning, Faulknerian novel about a family deeply rooted to the land. The setting is a moshava, or Jewish settlement, originally established in British Palestine by the Baron de Rothschild, whose community is marked by a rugged clannishness: “A different kind of people live here and every stone has its side of darkness and side of light.” Referring to a biblical episode in which two she-bears emerge from the woods and kill 42 children, the title presages the acts of violent retribution to come. Heavy though it is, the book is leavened by a humane, comedic, and romantic spirit. A graduate student researching the moshava’s history of gender politics gets more than she bargained for when she interviews Ruta Tavori, whose family has been at the center of the moshava’s most notorious episodes. Ruta is an obliging subject, sharing the “terrible stories about the terrible things that were done by the terrible men I love” in her irreverent, tender, clear-sighted, and occasionally incensed voice. (Along with the interviews, the novel is comprised of Ruta’s own written accounts of the Tavoris.) Her tale begins with Grandpa Ze’ev, the one-eyed patriarch of the clan, who in 1930 moves to the moshava with a “rifle, a cow, a tree, and a woman,” all a man needed to start a life. A murderous domestic drama develops, the details of which Ruta divulges alongside an episode from her own life: the death of her six-year-old son. Exquisitely paced and effortlessly shifting in tone from jaunty to suspenseful to tragic, this morally complex novel leaves no stone unturned in excavating one family’s past. (Sept.)