cover image Lies, First Person

Lies, First Person

Gail Hareven, trans. from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. Open Letter (, $15.95 trade paper (370p) ISBN 978-1-940953-03-8

Hareven’s book starts with a disclaimer: “You should never believe writers, even when they pretend to be telling the truth. Everything... here is pure fiction.” Not exactly big news in a novel, but when narrator Elinor says her lawyer husband insisted on this introduction, the reader’s antenna goes up. Could the story be true? This is just one of the tricks Hareven (The Confessions of Noa Weber) gets up to. There’s also the title: does it refer to lies told in the first person—that is, by the narrator—or those told by her father’s cousin, the author of a novel within the novel told in Hitler’s voice, titled, yes, Hitler, First Person. Aaron Gotthilf, Elinor’s Uncle, has been punished for the book (bad reviews, banning, hate mail), but he’s gone unpunished for repeatedly raping Elinor’s older, more timid sister, Elisheva. The rapes more or less destroyed the Jerusalem-based Gotthilf family, precipitating breakdowns, suicide, and abandonment; that Elinor is a happily married columnist and her sister has made a new life in America seems almost miraculous. But Elinor’s Eden is threatened when Aaron comes to Jerusalem to apologize (for the book, not the rape). Well translated, the novel is tart and testy, filled with insight into writers’ ability to lie, omit, and fabricate. [em](Feb.) [/em]