Abraham B. Yehoshua’s A Woman in Jerusalem begins in Jerusalem, where a woman has died when a bomb exploded in a marketplace. The body had been taken to the hospital morgue, but after a week no one had come forward to claim it. The only identification found on her is the bloodstained stub of a paycheck from a bakery where she had been employed. A reporter for a local tabloid newspaper writes a lurid account about the dead woman, accusing the bakery of gross negligence for ignoring its missing employee. The article, intended to attract the attention of readers, is headlined “The Shocking Inhumanity Behind Our Daily Bread.” A description of the bakery and a photo of the owner accompany the article. Such bad publicity demands a response from the owner. He calls in his human resources manager and assigns him to find out what he could about the woman and to make arrangements for her funeral.
What sounds at first like a simple assignment for the manager becomes an odyssey. Yehoshua introduces an interesting cast of supporting characters: Each contributes new information about the deceased and each presents a human being with unique personality quirks. None of the characters is given a name, each one being identified only by occupation, such as the night shift supervisor, the morgue technician, and the embassy consul. Yehoshua’s personality sketches depict people whom the reader can well imagine as they perform their occupational roles.
The first order of business for the human resources manager is to find out the name of the deceased woman and her job at the bakery. The manager’s secretary soon locates the personnel file of the woman, including a transcript of her employment interview with a photograph. Her name was Yulia Ragayev, and she was hired as a cleaning woman on the night shift. Something strange was going on, however, as the secretary tells her boss, “Even though we issued that woman another paycheck, she was no longer employed by us at the time of the bombing.”
The next scene takes place at the bakery later that evening, where some ninety employees are preparing the baked goods for the following day. The manager asks the night shift supervisor why the woman was issued a paycheck even though she was no longer working. The supervisor at first gives an evasive answer, but after learning that she is dead, he is shocked into a personal confession. Yulia was an attractive younger woman, and he had developed an emotional attachment to her. He was a long-term employee of the bakery, close to retirement, afraid to think where this relationship was heading. His way out of the problem was to terminate the woman’s employment. However, he felt an obligation to provide her some continuing income until she found another job; so he had not informed the payroll department of her departure. After hearing this confession, the manager concludes that the bakery has no direct responsibility for the dead woman because the paycheck was issued after her dismissal.
The manager is obligated to go to the hospital morgue where the woman’s as-yet>unidentified body has been stored since her death. He is able to provide them with her name, home address, and other information from her personnel file. Yehoshua presents an interesting vignette of a young lab technician who works at the morgue. The keys found in the dead woman’s coat pocket are handed to the manager so he can go to her apartment to see what personal possessions might need to be sent to the next of kin. When he drives to the apartment building, he cannot find which unit is hers. He knocks on a door, which is opened by six girls in nightgowns whose parents are out for the evening. They are excited to tell him all they know about Yulia, even though their parents have warned them against talking to strangers. This delightful interlude provides a light touch in the middle of an otherwise somber errand. After thanking the girls for directing him to Yulia’s door, the manager tells them they should all get back to bed.
With the keys obtained from the morgue, the manager enters the dead woman’s modest apartment. After rummaging through some of her personal belongings, he feels for the first time a sense of grief about her death. Several times he...
(The entire section is 1744 words.)