Michael Gonen, the title character, born in 1926. He is a third-year geology student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem at the beginning of the novel, in 1950. Ten years later, when the novel ends, he is a relatively promising academic with his doctoral thesis just completed. A decent, diligent, unimaginative young man for whose academic success his father and aunts have great hopes, Michael falls in love with Hannah Greenbaum almost on first sight. She describes him as angular bodied with a long, lean, and dark face, gray eyes, short hair, and strong hands. They marry after a brief courtship and begin life together in an old apartment in northwestern Jerusalem’s Mekor Baruch neighborhood. He proves to be a devoted father to Yair and a dutiful husband to Hannah, although he is not good at either communicating or fathoming feelings. By the end of the novel, his hair is beginning to gray, his chronic heartburn is worse, and his wife, Hannah, is expecting their second child.
Hannah Greenbaum Gonen
Hannah Greenbaum Gonen, the first-person narrator, born in 1930. She is the protagonist of this “journal,” which she is writing after ten years of marriage to Michael. Her father, Yosef, whom she loved more than anyone else in her life, died of cancer when she was thirteen years old. She falls in love with Michael while she is a first-year student of literature at Hebrew University, and they marry within months. Once she becomes pregnant, she abandons her studies. After a difficult pregnancy and a birth with complications that leaves her ill for a while, Hannah finds her life fraught with bouts of anxiety, depression, and dreams that impede her ability to cope with everyday events. She suffers from a chronic sore throat and a recurrent loss of voice. She often spends money “hysterically” on unneeded items. She finds their apartment and the city of her birth oppressive. The promises of a new apartment in a new suburb in 1961 and a new child to be born in 1960 do nothing to assuage her sense of the sameness of days and the irrevocable loss of her youthful power of loving.
Yair Zalman Gonen
Yair Zalman Gonen, Michael and Hannah’s son, born in March, 1951. From infancy, with his broad healthy face, high cheekbones, and gray eyes, he resembles Hannah’s brother Emanuel. A strong, silent, bright child with a good memory, Yair seems cold, violent, and sullenly insolent to Hannah. He often comes home from play showing marks of fisticuffs. Yair gets along well with Michael, who never administers corporal punishment to him. A teacher describes him as lacking sensitivity.
Yehezkel Gonen, Michael’s father. He dies in the summer of 1955 only days after Michael, Hannah, and Yair visit him for six days in Holon. From Poland and with four sisters in Israel, he had changed his surname from Ganz to Gonen. At the time of the novel, he is a retired municipal water department employee on a modest pension, a vegetarian, a member of the Labor Movement, and an active participant in the local branch of the Workers’ Party. A father who always had dreams of academic success for his only child, Michael, he never remarried after the death of his wife, Tova, which occurred when Michael was three years old. During the 1955 family visit, he gets along famously with his grandson, Yair.
Yoram Kamnitzer, the teenage son of the Gonens’ upstairs neighbors. He occasionally looks after Yair when Hannah and Michael go out. He shows Hannah his...
(The entire section is 1470 words.)