The American memoir has proven a most protean and profitable contemporary genre encouraging seemingly limitless permutations, and in Revenge: A Story of Hope, Laura Blumenfeld’s story of confronting the Palestinian militant who once attempted to kill her rabbi father, demonstrates the best and the worst aspects of the genre. By yoking a story of personal loss and recovery with research into the global human appetite for vengeance, Blumenfeld ably illustrates the violence pervading many of the intractable geopolitical crises of the present day. Yet her relentless psychological bias, “an exercise in empathy” intended to reaffirm human complexity against its ideological dehumanization, too often subordinates nuanced reporting to personal histrionics. As a well-credentialed journalist schooled in international relations, Blumenfeld clearly knows her way around some very dark corners of the world, a fact that makes her frequent withdrawal into self-absorption all the more disappointing.
The three major storylines unfolding in Revenge address issues of family past, present, and future. The first involves the crime at the heart of the book: In March, 1986, American rabbi David Blumenfeld became the first victim in a spate of tourist shootings in Jerusalem orchestrated by the militant Palestinian faction Abu Musa. Then a student at Harvard, Laura proved far more traumatized by David’s superficial head wound than David himself, writing a poem at the time in which she promised the unknown shooter, “If you are the Arab/ aimed in the near dark/ grazing his temple/ missing his life,/ this hand will find you/ I am his daughter.” Twelve years later, in what constitutes her second main narrative thread, Laura and her new husband, federal prosecutor Baruch Weiss, embark on a year-long Israeli honeymoon which is also dedicated to Laura’s book project on the subject of revenge—a project masking her long-deferred personal revenge quest. The third narrative line fuses past and future as Laura struggles simultaneously with her continuing grief over her parents’ divorce—an unexpected event that occurred not long before the shooting—and the demands of forging her own viable marriage out of two well-established adult personalities. Perhaps it was the very act of marriage itself—a point at which women in traditional societies are lost to their birth families as they join those of their husbands—that focused Laura so intently on the retaliation that would mark her in perpetuity as her father’s daughter by forcefully answering the basic question underlying all revenge societies: “What kind of family do you come from?”
If blood ties compel vengeance as necessary to the honor—the symbolic self-preservation—of the clan, religion has delivered decidedly mixed messages about its cultural legitimacy. With a reporter’s fearlessness, Blumenfeld traveled to societies where competing personal, religious, and societal interests long ago coalesced into quasilegal systems: Sicily, Iran, and Albania, among others. Possessed by her own atavistic hunger to retaliate against her father’s would-be assassin, she broods over how to sublimate such anger into acceptably “civilized” channels: “Bullets were [the shooter’s] weapon. What was mine?” Given her repeated analogy between words and bullets, one recognizes that the memoir itself functions as a sly avenger’s stratagem for reversing the humiliating powerlessness that she cites as the core psychological imperative driving revenge.
However, her avenging impulses subtly extend beyond the Palestinian who is her ostensible target to include her mother, Norma Blumenfeld, whose sabotaging of the family’s domestic idyll had already taught Laura that threats to one’s emotional security often erupt from within. As is often the case in women’s life writing, the unresolved drama in Revenge is Laura’s characterization of her mother, which never quite coheres. Norma’s sunny effusiveness about their relationship is contradicted by her insensitivity to the emotional cudgel she continues to wield within the family. Despite endless declarations of mutual devotion, Laura keeps her mother largely in the dark about her true revenge project right up until the eve of her long-awaited meeting with the shooter—a meeting she allows Norma to witness.
Laura’s testimonial on David’s behalf, in a courtroom scene that reviewer Janet Maslin rightly labels “pure Hollywood,” publicly renders the daughter her mother’s mirror opposite, an epiphany Norma herself abashedly experiences. Though an unlikely woman warrior, Laura nonetheless...
(The entire section is 1891 words.)