A Late Divorce

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 11)

The Kaminkas are not a family one would care to get close to, for fear their plagues might rub off. Merely reading about them in A Late Divorce (published in Israel in 1982 as Gerushim me’uharim) is a painful experience at times, despite a leavening of humor ranging from farcical to dark, since even the humor concerns a series of human disasters ranging from minor to major. Overall, A Late Divorce is no laughing matter. On a primary level, the novel is a close psychological study of a disintegrating Israeli family. On a secondary level, the novel has profound social implications, suggesting the growing secularization of Israel, a state founded by Zionists and closely identified with Judaism. Both of these levels of meaning also have universal significance: A Late Divorce pictures the kind of troubled modern family to be found almost everywhere, and on a societal level it develops the familiar theme of desacralized life, life without a spiritual basis. In A Late Divorce, the Waste Land, or the Secular City, has come to Israel.

The novel is told through nine interior monologues, one for each day of the action. Each of the monologues reveals the character speaking and helps piece together the family’s story with bits of timely and shocking information. Each of the monologues is loaded with symbols; in addition, the total structure of the novel is symbolic, like a tragicomic journey through the Israeli inferno, with each sin (or failure) depicted becoming progressively more serious and complex until the father is reached at the center.

For example, the novel begins with the simplest monologue, spoken by Gaddi, the fat second grader, whose stage of development represents a kind of limbo but who already shows marked tendencies toward gluttony and violence: He eats any food within reach and beats up a smaller third grader who taunts him with the innocuous nickname of “Boxer.” During the course of the first section, Gaddi is left to care for his infant sister, Rakefet, who messes her diaper and sets up a howl. Donning raincoat, leather gloves, and a kerchief over nose and mouth, Gaddi climbs into the crib and extricates Rakefet from her full diaper with a pair of sugar tongs. Unhappily, he then goes off and leaves the diaper in the crib; Rakefet rolls around in it, smears it all over, and possibly even samples its flavor. This scene seems to symbolize the nasty mess into which the Kaminka family has gotten itself generally.

Also placed in the outer circles of the hierarchy of the damned is the son-in-law, Kedmi, who narrates the second section. With his physical bulk and uncomplicated animal nature, Kedmi illustrates the sins of the flesh: He shows where Gaddi’s gluttony came from. Kedmi enjoys wallowing in the bed with Ya’el, even when his father-in-law can hear their grunts and cries through a thin wall. (Significantly, Kedmi and Ya’el have produced the only grandchildren so far, with little hope for progeny from other quarters; sterility in the Waste Land is rampant.) In keeping with his simple, direct nature, Kedmi says whatever crosses his mind, which means that he is sometimes witty and sometimes vulgar and tactless. As a lawyer, he shows little promise of distinction, but he does display the right instincts: Sweating and puffing, he goes chasing all over town after a big check.

The cowlike Ya’el seems a proper spouse for Kedmi, though her monologue does not come until much later in the novel (hers is seventh). The position of her monologue is perhaps determined by the plot—speaking three years later, she ties up loose ends—but it could also indicate her status in the hierarchy. A more complex personality than Kedmi, Ya’el on the one hand is mother to the whole crowd, and her tendency to empathize with and accept but not judge people shows a spirit of love needed in the family, perhaps even qualifying her as a spokesperson for the author. On the other hand, her passivity prevents her from doing enough to try to redeem her parents and brothers. Despite her Earth Mother fertility, Ya’el communicates the same ineffectual quality as all the Kaminkas.

Much easier to figure are Asa and Dina Kaminka, exemplars of young pride. Both are vain about their physical appearance: Dina is struck by how her beauty collects and slays admirers, while Asa thinks that he cuts a dramatic figure as a lecturer. Their pride also leads to...

(The entire section is 1815 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 11)

America. CL, May 26, 1984, p. 405.

Christian Science Monitor. LXXVI, February 1, 1984, p. 22.

Library Journal. CIX, March 15, 1984, p. 598.

The New Republic. CXC, March 12, 1984, p. 38.

The New York Review of Books. XXXI, June 14, 1984, p. 11.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXIX, February 19, 1984, p. 1.

The New Yorker. LX, March 19, 1984, p. 147.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXIV, December 23, 1983, p. 50.

The Wall Street Journal. CCIII, February 1, 1984, p. 22.

West Coast Review of Books. X, May, 1984, p. 27.