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Book Review

Ten Thousand Lovers
provides insight into
complexity of Israel
,  June 20, 2005

Ten Thousand Lovers by Edeet Ravel; Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins; 284 pages; $12.95 (paperback)

Reviewed by Norman Manson

At first blush, this novel seems to be a lightweight romantic tale, almost a print version of  a chick flick. But, set as it is in modern Israel, where nothing is quite that simple, it evolves into a deep-rooted account of emotional conflict, emblematic in some ways of the rift - perhaps even a chasm - that pervades Israeli society.
Lilly, the book's narrator and key figure, falls in love with Ami, whose army job of interrogating prisoners runs sharply counter to his personal philosophy. Lily, a graduate student at Hebrew University, also holds liberal, peace-loving views. Born on a kibbutz, she immigrated to Canada with her parents as a child and has returned only to pursue her studies.

Ami's best friend, Ibrahim, is an Israeli Arab whose girlfriend, Mary Jo, is a Mennonite - we're not dealing with ordinary, run-of-the-mill people here. Edeet Ravel, herself born on a left-wing kibbutz and a now a resident of Canada, weaves a fascinating, page-turner story of the interactions of these characters and a few others, such as Bracha, Lily's aunt. Set in the
mid- and late 1970s, the book epitomizes the turmoil that was, at that time, beginning to wrack Israeli society as it grappled with the difficult issues involved  in administering its newly acquired West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Sinai.

And, interspersed with the main story, Ravel fast-forwards twenty years or so - Lily now lives in London and has a grown daughter who is a ballet dancer. And, adding a little intellectual content, the author traces the etymology of various Hebrew words, all of which have some bearing on the book's plot. And, to spice things a bit more, there's even a recipe for parsley hummus dip!
Along with their frequent sexual escapades, which are described in detail, the couple gradually reveal their backgrounds - how they came to be what they are - and their ideological viewpoints, which really are quite similar. It all leads up to a heart-rending denouement, which will not be revealed here.
The jumps from the past to the present (or at least to the late '90s) disrupt the flow, the continuity of the plot to a certain extent, and the discussions about Hebrew words have a similar effect. But, once the reader becomes accustomed to these interruptions, the plot unfolds quite smoothly, as, overall, the book is quite readable. And it does provide some insight into the emotional and ideological conflicts that have troubled Israeli society for a generation and more.