canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

A Wall of Light

by Edeet Ravel 
HarperCollins, 2005

Reviewed by Faruk Myrtaj

"I am Sonya Vronsky, professor of mathematics at Tel Aviv University, and this is the story of a day in late August. On this remarkable day I kissed a student, pursued a lover, found my father, and left my brother…"

So begins Edeet Ravel’s novel. How could all these remarkable occurrences have happened inside a single day? Ravel’s A Wall of Light amounts to a fantastic poem of a kiss that couldn’t be postponed and a Penelope pursuing an unknown lover inside an Ithaca divided by a wall of misunderstanding.

A Wall of Light is the third part of Ravel’s Tel Aviv trilogy. Of the two previous novels, Ten Thousand Lovers, a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for fiction, and Look for Me, the winner of the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, were acclaimed by critics.

Although Ravel’s protagonist Sonya is totally deaf, her perceptions otherwise are so all-embracing that her handicap may actually be a stroke of good luck. It might have been harder for her if she could hear everything that was being said and occurring around her: "Her field was pure math, but she saw math as allegory, an allegory for human stubbornness, capriciousness, bewilderment, adaptability, resilience, hope, sense of futility and fear." She has no ideas about will happen in the future, but she hopes and believes in her luck. She’d been injured in an accident, and accidents constitute her future. Almost accidentally, after her lecture she gifted a kiss to her follower in the university’s auditorium. As a gift to the fish, but nobody knows who is the fish and who is fisherman. It was a way to give herself up with all her soul, instinctually, physically, accidentally…

Accidents seem to await everyone in the novel. Almost everybody in her country, Israel, is troubled; the entire nation is caught up in a huge neuroses. Sonya analyzes her family, the Vronskys, and their relation to herself. "My mother was a night bird…" she says. "You are old, father William", add she, trying to make peace between them, who she knows as her parents. And Kostya, "her darling brother", no guilty in blame about her accident, is ready to do everything to help and protect his half-sister. Noah, the other brother, also keeps a diary and we read how he changes and evolves. In this family-- Noah, Kostya, Dud and Mother the same as the others who are near and far from them, Anna, Andrei, Eli, Khalid, Raya and Lily, everyone is so incessantly paranoid that it becomes second nature to them. "I am against bird’s immigration"

Sonya says as she plays playing violin. And what can one say about people who are ordered to leave the country or risk their lives everyday? This becomes both ironic and tragic when we read that "…the mad people are tolerated because there is a sense here that we need every body and soul, every one is precious, and that anyone who chooses to live here is heroic to some degree. And if someone announces that they are leaving for US or some other places…it is considered a great betrayal…"

All the novel’s characters follow something that they are used to calling Life while all of them pursue not of living but of something bigger called "Life". The assumption of power and authority changes them. "Because of being rude in peace they are changed in persons in charge."

Noah’s diary asks, "What are bodies? Nothing. Just things we use, like a car. So why is there so much emotion attached to bodies? That’s the question." He adds: "Because the truth is, the army is really, really not for me, I can tell. No, I have to go, it’s my duty. If I don’t go that means I’m a coward and I don’t deserve to be Israeli…"

Some individual scenes are wonderful. For example, the journey to find the sympathetic taxi driver Khalid and conversations with him, only some meters from the death bed of his mother, in his home; or the trip to the apartment of Sonya’s true father Eli, who is alcoholised; the dialogues there between him, Raya and Lily. Readers can say, as Ravel might, that "we can see the shape of sounds".

The letters in the novel are signed 1957, Noah’s diary keep the dates of 1980, 1992 years. Iris, the fiancée of her brother, "had gone to her world", of the dead people, and Mom seemed going there in the same way. Both of them are concisely described as strong characters punished by a rough society. The many characters remain fixed in the reader’s memory. Life moves in a circle in which one cannot calculate where one starts or where one finishes. "As an experiment, the newspapers should reprint an edition from four years ago and see whether anyone noticed. Or maybe even twenty years ago."

And what about a wall in a space full of love and hostility, when that which divides the people is not just a wall but the idea of its necessity. The destruction of the Berlin Wall seemed to have been incomplete, Ravel suggests, since yet another wall is deemed essential. The absence of reason’s light requires it.

"I gave this long detailed step-by-step plan for peace and the amazing thing is that now over forty five years later, I wouldn’t have to alter a single word," Sonya says at the end of novel. "What a strange day I have had!" she says. The sentence can equally read "What a strange life We have had." A life which may included inside a day! The vigorous translator remains confused about his sexual identity. Sonya was kissed by chance and just that day she revealed her innermost thoughts to an unknown taxi-driver. Maybe this is what good luck means: to have given oneself to someone who is worth pursuing. Everyone in that society seeks to find their identity in the same way as a false peace pursues a true one, being in risk and parted by the walls raised on the stones taken by Berlin’s Wall.

This novel needed to be written. "If not now, when?"

This is a quote from the first page of the novel. The life inside of the novel is very similar to reality and just because of this the reading needs to start again, in the same way as the life starts all over again.

Faruk Myrtaj, an Albanian journalist and writer, is member of The Writer Union of Canada and PEN Canada.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.