cover image The Loves of Judith

The Loves of Judith

Meir Shalev. Ecco Press, $25 (315pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-635-3

""A mensh trakht un Gott lakht."" This Yiddish expression meaning ""man plans and God laughs"" appears more than once in Shalev's appealing third novel (after Esau), in which mythic storytelling lucidly elaborates on the workings of love and fate. Zayde, the narrator, grows up in Israel's Jezreel Valley in the 1940s and '50s, confused but protected by a name that signifies ""grandfather."" His mother, Judith, reasons that if ""the Angel of Death comes and sees a little boy named Zayde (Grandfather), he understands right away that there's a mistake here and he goes to someplace else."" But while Judith's attempt to trick Fate saves the life of her illegitimate son many times, it helps lead to her own demise. Her story, and those of the three men who love her, each claiming Zayde as his son, are revealed during four ornate meals prepared for Zayde by one of his ""fathers,"" Jacob Sheinfeld. Twelve-year-old Zayde first visits Jacob almost two years after his mother's death. He returns three times over the next 29 years to let his memories intertwine with Jacob's. The tales of those who have loved Judith are epic. Oxlike Moshe Rabinovitch, briefly married to Judith after the death of his wife, still searches for his blonde braid cut off at adolescence and hidden by his mother. Sheinfeld is taught to dance, cook and sew in preparation for a wedding Fate cannot destroy (but does). Only Globerman, Zayde's third ""father,"" a shrewd cattle dealer, is earthbound, but the unique legacies all three fathers leave their shared son seal the unwieldy family's destiny. Told in a euphonic voice and employing the magic conventions of a fairytale, this is a heartwarming narrative agleam with moments of plangent sadness, rueful humor and compassionate insight. (Mar.)